Virginia Peninsula Community College volleyball coach Tommy Thomas is direct when talking about Carlee Watson’s value to this year’s team.
“I wish we had her for another year,” he said.
Watson, however, has other plans, despite enjoying her past two years on the Gators volleyball team. She will transfer to Old Dominion University in the spring to pursue an engineering degree.
She does have at least three matches left. The Gators take on Cheney University on Nov. 1 at Heritage High School, then have the New South Athletic Conference tournament Nov. 4, also at Heritage.
The Gators (1-3) earned their first victory of the season with a three-set win at Cheney on Oct. 19. Watson is hoping for a repeat but knows there is work to be done.
“You always want to win,” she said of her goals for the remaining matches, “but just to play our best volleyball, to improve and get better. There were things that last game (vs. Cheney) we could have improved on. We made a lot of mistakes, so just to fix those up.”
As a setter and the quarterback of the offense, Watson’s play will go a long way in determining the outcome. Thomas has complete confidence in her.
“(She’s) very smart running the offense,” he said of Watson. “Having her being a setter is the big difference (from last year).”
While the Gators also posted just one victory last year, this year’s matches have been more competitive. Thomas said with fewer unforced errors, the Gators could have more wins this year.
Watson, a 2021 graduate of Tabb High School who began playing the sport in middle school, is the only returning player from last year’s team, which was the first in program history. The biggest change she has noticed this year is the number of players and the experience of those players. Last year, she said, it was hard finding players because the program was new, and many of those who did come out were playing competitive volleyball for the first time.
“We have more skilled players,” she said of the 2023 team, making it more competitive among the players. “It seems like this year, everyone has played before.”
As one of the few experienced players last year, Watson was thrust into a leadership role. This year, that role has come more naturally for Watson, who is shy and quiet.
“I had to get her out of her shell. She doesn’t talk a lot,” said Thomas, who is in his first year with the Gators.
That has changed, at least on the court this year.
“(She talks) a lot now, a whole lot now,” Thomas said. “She has improved a ton.”
The season began in mid-August, and Watson has seen big improvements in a few short months, crediting friendships formed in practice.
“I feel the team, knowing each other and forming those relationships, it’s helped us trust each other on the court, which is a huge thing,” she said.
That trust could result in wins in Watson’s final matches.
In the NSAC Invitational, VPCC will face Appalachian Bible College at 10 a.m., followed by Mid-Atlantic Christian University playing the University of Virginia-Lynchburg. The consolation match will follow the second semifinal, with the championship match capping off the day’s events.
For more information on VPCC and its athletics programs, visit www.vpcc.edu.