By Jeremy Stafford -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- She can't explain how she picked up volleyball so quickly.
Her older brother, David Carter, formerly a Handley cornerback, now a Shepherd University cornerback, was pretty athletic growing up -- maybe that provides some insight as to the origins of her abilities.
"I think maybe it's just genetics," said Handley junior Dierdre Carter, inflecting the pitch of her voice so it sounded as though she asked a question.
She could at least explain why she played so well as a seventh- and eighth-grader at Daniel Morgan Middle School. She was simply taller than everyone else.
Indeed, her height even partly explains why she was a standout on Handley's JV team as a freshman, and why she was eventually called up to the varsity team toward the end of the 2009 season.
But her height does little to explain how as a sophomore last year she led the area with 103 blocks, or how as a middle hitter her 138 kills ranked among the area's top 10 hitters.
Everyone else, after all, is pretty tall as well.
"Freshman year I was a taller one," she said. "I haven't grown in a little while, but I was sort of a taller one, so it was pretty easy [to get blocks].
"When I got to 10th grade I still kept up my blocking because I was able to jump higher, but I still haven't grown that much."
She was also pretty consistent behind the service line: her 92.8 service percentage was second only to Alison Snow among her teammates.
But Handley, known for so long throughout the Northwestern District as a defensive team, will finally make a move to bolster its attack -- by moving Carter to the outside.
It's a spot she's comfortable with. She was an outside hitter for her past two travel teams.
But for Handley coach Lindsay Hazelette, being able to build an offense around Carter has been an entirely new, and entirely exciting, opportunity, even if it does mean sacrificing a few of those 103 blocks.
"I think she's even better on the outside," Hazelette said. "She still will help us in the blocking, but probably not on every ball.
"I'd rather have her offensive attack than her blocking as a strategy."
It seems to have worked so far. In a 3-0 win over Clarke County on Wednesday, Carter scored seven kills.
Alex Bazdar returns her 127 kills as another outside hitter, and Alex Barnett will supplant Carter as Handley's middle hitter.
Senior Megan Strother, whose 184 digs led Handley last year, returns as the backbone of the Judges' defense, and junior Lisa Meneau seems to be a promising hitter.
Essentially, Hazelette feels she has a lot to work with.
"We're doing things this year that typically I do at the end of each season," she said. "We're already to that point where we can build more and more. They're taking ownership of, 'This is our team, this is our year,' and that's what their mindset is.
"It's very exciting for me to do drills that we usually do in late October, and we're doing it on day one."
Handley also seems to have a chemistry it lacked last season. Hazelette said the team is "very close knit." Carter said the Judges, because the majority of them have grown up together, and have spent years playing volleyball together, have already organized more team functions than they have in years past.
"I think that will help us with bonding," Carter said, "and this year we will be a lot stronger, and be able to down some teams that we haven't before."
Which could be an important, even vital, goal to have this season. Handley beat district runners-up James Wood once last year, and beat Millbrook three times -- a pair of notable accomplishments, according to Hazelette, considering that until then she'd yet to coach Handley to a win over a Frederick County school.
Last year Sherando knocked Handley out of the district tournament semifinals. And there's no reason, Strother said, to assume the Judges can't take their season a game or two further.
"I definitely think we'll go farther than we did last year," Strother said. "I think a lot of the younger players are adding to our talent, so I think we'll go farther than we did."