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Sep. 25—LUMBERTON — Kali Carter will still be a teenager for one more month.
But she's already a couple months into her high school coaching career, as the 19-year-old Carter is coaching the Lumberton High School varsity volleyball team this season.
"I might be young, but I think I can hold that professional level," Carter said. "I can be stern when I want to and they listen to me. As long as I have experience behind it, and I can bring that in a professional level, I think I'm a good fit."
Carter came to Lumberton already having two years of coaching experience at the club level. She also played club level from the seventh grade until her senior year of high school.
"I think my background, growing up in volleyball and knowing how the sport works, and I've done two years coaching and I've always had great leaders around me," Carter said. "I've always had coaches that prepared me for the worst and the best, and I've always loved it. I think that's what really helped me."
"We want somebody with some history with the game, and she's played and she's coached," Lumberton athletic director Adam Deese said. "She has experience in it, and you want somebody that has those characteristics. Her maturity for her age is one thing that really stood out."
Carter played high school volleyball while living in Kentucky her freshman and sophomore years. She didn't play her last two years of high school after moving to the Fayetteville area because a coach told her "some people are players and some people do better as coaches" — advice which kickstarted her coaching career.
As Carter has moved around in her youth, volleyball has been one constant in her life, which has made her comfortable on the court.
"In a way, it's always felt like a home to me, volleyball," Carter said. "Because everywhere we go, it follows — there's club (volleyball) everywhere, there's teams everywhere. You stay very fit in it, it's very active, and just the dynamic of how the sport is played, I just always loved it."
Coaching so soon after her playing career allows Carter to relate to her players on a way that many coaches cannot.
"She's gotten better with us talking to each other," senior player Tyler Coker said. "She jokes with us, but does it in a manner that we know that her being professional is different from us being friends. She's more of a friend than just our coach, and I think that helps us a lot."
"There's a fine line that she carries with that relationship," Deese said. "They know to respect her and what she says. Zach Lowery's there to help out ... but as far as any problems, she handles it. She's doing a great job."
That relationship extends off the court as well.
"If they have issues at home they can always come to me, and if they have problems, I'm always here to help," Carter said. "I feel like because I'm so close in age to them I'm not going to judge them as much, and they feel like it's OK to come to me with certain problems, especially on the court. They complain about each other, they can talk to me and I can find a way to figure it out."
Carter, who is also studying at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, didn't grow up in Robeson County but has family roots here; both her parents graduated from Purnell Swett in 1993 and she often visited the area through her childhood to see extended family.
"Finally moving back down here and going to school here, seeing all my friends and cousins — I just love the culture of Robeson County," Carter said. "It's always family everywhere."
An added on-court element to that family dynamic is Carter's sister, Mahala, who is a senior at Gray's Creek and plays outside hitter for the Bears, creating a unique coach-player sibling rivalry when Lumberton and Gray's Creek face off as United-8 Conference opponents. The Bears swept the first meeting on Sept. 9 and the teams play in Lumberton on Oct. 5.
"It's very competitive," Kali Carter said. "We talk a lot of crap to each other; we've very on each other's tails and stuff all the time. It's fun. Playing them the first time, it was a lot of anger going towards her for playing for that team. But I love her, and that makes it more competitive and that competition behind it makes it more enjoyable."
As the Pirates (3-7, 1-5 United-8) have had an up-and-down season so far, Carter is working to make sure the team's fundamentals are solidified as they look to improve.
"She's been really great to the team, just because she's kind of helped rebuild our fundamentals and going back to the basics," said senior player Peyton Brooks, who's known Carter since before she came to Lumberton. "Because without the basics in volleyball, you can't really play volleyball. So as a whole, I feel like we've become better passers, better setters and better hitters."
"My goal here is to grow a team from the basics, grow a team to where the younger girls are looking up to the older girls and like 'hey, I want to be like her,'" Carter said. "And have the strong basics set in to where we're growing bigger every year, to maybe go to state, and make them stronger as a whole."
Chris Stiles can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected] You can follow him on Twitter at @StilesOnSports.