When Cheyenne Strickland signed a letter of intent in May to play volleyball and softball at Ferrum College, she was believed to be the first female from Carroll County High School to play two sports at the collegiate level. Already, the athleticism that made that possible is paying off for Ferrum’s volleyball team.
Cracking the starting lineup in just the Panthers’ sixth game, Strickland has led Ferrum to a 9-3 mark in the past 12 contests. Sporting a 11-6 record as of Friday, the Panthers have already won more games this year than all of last season during a 7-22 campaign.
“I think the chemistry between the girls on the court has been great this season. It has been in the past, but we are a junior-heavy team right now and play quite a few of those girls at the same time,” Ferrum volleyball coach Ruthanne Duffy said. “Throwing in Cheyenne, who is very consistent, it has really clicked. We have a lot of girls who don’t want the ball to hit the floor, and that is what we need.”
Strickland burst on the scene in Ferrum’s first game, dishing out 19 assists in the opener against Emory & Henry. And while the Panthers lost that game, she followed it up with a season-high 39 assists to go along with 11 digs a week later, a five-set win over Randolph College. Since cracking the starting lineup, Strickland is averaging 20.3 assists a night. Her 288 assists, or 5.65 assists per set, are 120 more than the next highest setter on the team.
“Cheyenne is just an athlete. It is insane how athletic she is,” Duffy said. “When we have her out on the court, we know she is going to give us 100 percent, she is going to try to get to every ball she can and she is going to do the best with it once she does get a hold off it. We were letting our senior setter start at the beginning, but know we like the lineup with her out there setting the tempo for the team.”
Strickland’s numbers have continued to improve as she has continued to get more playing time at Ferrum. She has had at least 11 digs in four games this year, including a season-high 20 on Sept. 26 against Methodist. Duffy decided to dabble with Strickland as right hitter three games ago, and the Ferrum freshman has excelled there as well, throwing down 10 kills Sept. 28 against Hollins.
“I don’t think she was expecting that and I don’t think we were at the beginning, but she is doing really well (at hitter)” Duffy said. “She just had to be put in that environment a few times and she got the hang of it really quickly.”
Strickland was a decorated volleyball player at CCHS, earning All-Conference 24 honors both years the Cavaliers were in the new conference. She led the team with 385 assists as a senior but also had 176 kills and 15 blocks as hitter. Her part-time move to hitter for Ferrum was a pleasant surprise.
“I wasn’t expecting that at all. I don’t think anybody expected it, but during practice I would go through hitting lines just for the heck of it,” Strickland said. “One of right-side hitters had been struggling and coach asked me one day if I could hit right side and I said, ‘Yeah, I have done it in high school.’ She stuck me there and it has stuck.”
Besides leading the Panthers in assists, Strickland also is fourth on the team in digs with 118 and sixth in kills with 45. She also has one of the team’s higher hitting percentages and leads Ferrum in sets played (51) and service aces (24).
“I love it here. I wasn’t expecting it to be as great as it is,” Strickland said of Ferrum. “The team has accepted me and the people are really friendly. The classes really engage you and everything is great.”
Of course, the pace of the game is much faster than high school, Strickland said, and officials are much stricter on how they call setting in college. But just like at Carroll County, the game still comes fairly easy to her.
“I feel like it just comes to me naturally. Coach (Cindy) Edwards pushed us so hard (at Carroll), I think all the drills I did with Coach Edwards have really paid off,” Strickland said. “And I feel like if I didn’t play club ball I would not be as prepared. I improved more in club ball than in high school. And then in the River Ridge, if we were still in Southwest District, I would be behind beyond belief. In the Southwest District we didn’t run quicks and all that stuff. It was a really slow pace. The River Ridge is a faster pace and college is really fast.”
Fresh off helping lead Carroll County’s softball team to the first ever team state title in school history in June, Strickland still plans on playing softball this spring at Ferrum. She hasn’t been able to work out with the softball team yet because she has been so focused on volleyball. Coach Duffy said she hates to lose the freshman to softball in the spring, but realizes Strickland is athletic enough to pull it off. As far as the volleyball court, she said Strickland is already playing at the level of an upperclassman.
“I think confidence is the only thing she is really lacking. I think next year will be very impressive on her behalf just because she will have a year of volleyball under belt,” Duffy said. “She is such a perfectionist. After every set to her hitters she is asking them, ‘Is that good enough, is that where you want it?’ That is what we need from her. Even if it is a bad set, she needs to know the hitter needs to make something happen and she doesn’t need to take the blame like she tries to do.”
Already two victories ahead of last season’s win total, Duffy said the whole team is learning how to play with confidence. With winning, that will continue to come for Strickland and the entire team.
“Getting past seven wins was a big deal for us goal-wise. Now it is just an afterthought and we are making small goals. Hopefully we will succeed in that,” Duffy said. “I think this team has a ton of potential. I think overall the team could all use a little more confidence, but I think if we continue winning that will come hand in hand. They are excited and they enjoy how winning feels.”
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN