Lady Cats buoyed by Hilburn, Blackmon

Clovis High outside hitter Aimee Hilburn has returned to the Lady Wildcats volleyball team this year after skipping her junior season to concentrate on basketball. (CNJ staff photo: Andrew Chavez)

By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer

Clovis High’s Aimee Hilburn decided to skip her junior year in volleyball to concentrate on the basketball season.
Brittany Blackmon, who hadn’t played volleyball since junior high, thought about going out last year but also opted to focus on basketball.

Their decisions worked out — the Lady Wildcats captured the Class 5A girls state basketball championship in March. Now, though, both have joined the volleyball team this fall and sixth-year CHS coach Darrel Ray couldn’t be happier.

“It helps us immensely,” said Ray, whose young squad struggled last fall to the school’s first losing record (5-16) in about a decade. “Aimee has a lot of skills and has played with us before, and Brittany will give us a lot of defense in the middle.”

Both players are looking toward playing basketball in college, but said they decided to play volleyball this fall because it’s their senior year.

“I need to get stronger on my hits,” said the 5-foot-10 1/2 Blackmon, who will play a middle hitter position. “I’m coming along pretty good, but it’s going to take some practice.”

The Lady Cats definitely missed the 6-foot, 1/2-inch Hilburn at an outside hitter position last fall. And she admits she missed playing.

Hilburn said the lack of conditioning from not playing volleyball may have actually hurt her.

“I missed it a lot,” she said. “I felt I did better in basketball my sophomore year after playing volleyball than I did last year.

“I thought this would be fun. It helps conditioning-wise and getting your timing down, stuff like that.”

Hilburn said she was so sore after a CHS volleyball team camp last week that “I couldn’t walk the next day.” But she’s getting back into the swing.

“We’re going to try and come in and help out a little bit,” she said. “We just want to have a little fun.”

And, in turn, help the team have some fun.

“Aimee’s going to be our strong-side hitter, and we’re going to get the ball to her as often as we can,” Ray said. “Brittany’s a quick leaper. She can hit the floor and get right back up again.”

Blackmon said she thinks the team has the potential to turn it around.

“I don’t know that much about volleyball, but these girls are great,” she said. “I think my athletic ability is helping me a lot, and it should help me with my jumping for basketball.

“Volleyball’s pretty fun. I like diving on the floor and hustling for the ball.”

About 35 prospects reported for the start of practice, Ray said, and he’s optimistic the Lady Cats will bounce back with a solid season.

“I’ve been very impressed with the way we’ve looked early,” he said. “We feel pretty excited about the season.”