By Pete Zamplas
Master Blaster Molly Dove Pyles Merrill, perhaps the most prolific volleyballer in Henderson County history, is among four new Hall of Fame inductees of Hendersonville High School.
Redheaded Pyles (now Merrill) led the Red and White to the ultimate team feat of state titles in all four of her HHS seasons — lastly in 2000. She was state tourney MVP each time.
She then starred for UNC Lady Tar Heels. The six-foot outside hitter averaged a team-best 3.58 “kills” (slams) per game and 3.28 “digs” (retrievals) for her UNC junior regular season, on a squad ranked in the national top five. She had a career-high 29 digs that season, versus rival Virginia.
The four HHS inductees were inducted on Oct. 11, ahead of the homecoming demolition of Franklin (by 57-12), and were honored on-field at halftime.
Molly told The Tribune at that halftime that she sought to deliver slams with blending “strength and grace.” While a UNC athlete, she told the Tribune how much faster-paced collegiate volleyball is than high school pacing. “You have to see the blocks developing, and know where to hit the ball” to avoid defenders, she said then.
She could leap to reach 9 feet 8 inches high during drills, when her UNC squad practiced and scrimmaged in HHS’ gym in preseason 2002-03.
Now Molly fondly recalls “special memories, of our Bearcat ‘family.’ We supported each other — no matter what — and we each did our job on the court.”
She was an N.C. High School Athletic Association Athlete of the Year. She also starred for Biltmore Volleyball Club, as a teen. At HHS, she also played basketball four years and ran track for three years.
Molly was a further role model as vice-president of HHS’ National Honor Society, and four-time Scholar Athlete Award winner.
Her father Dr. Jerry Pyles played basketball at Georgetown. Her two elder sisters also starred at HHS and played collegiate volleyball — Amy for Wake Forest, and Beth at Furman. Beth also won consecutive state titles with HHS.
When Molly was at UNC studying psychology and education, she reflected on volleyball’s mental edge. “It’s fascinating how people act differently in competition,” she said then. “Some need support, to be pushed. Others are self-motivated.”
Molly and her husband Michael Merrill work for Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C. Molly for two years has worked in the Advancement office, and is leadership gift officer. Michael is in his fourth season as associate head basketball coach of Wofford Lady Terriers. Michael was an HHS multi-sport standout, and 2003 grad.
The Merrills married four years ago. They have a toddler son, Nolan.
The other three Hall of Fame inductees are the late Edward Rickman “Rick” Orr (Class of 1931) who was a three-sport (football, basketball, baseball) standout, retired HHS teacher Kaye Youngblood (Class of 1980), and Lynn Hart Staggs (Class of 1985).
Rick Orr braved the Great Depression, which struck when he was a junior and lingered. He worked at Ecusta, ran local Pickwick Cafe, and was an active Elk. Retired HHS teacher Tom Orr is his son.
Youngblood taught social studies in HHS for 26 years. She coached HHS volleyball to two state tiles. As a Bearcat student, Kaye was on HHS’ student government. She recently succeeded Tom Orr as head of the Walk of Fame committee, which recognizes those making immense local impact in various fields. Kaye has been stage manager for Orr’s historical plays.
Mrs. Staggs’ main civic contribution is running the local Storehouse non-profit to aid local families with clothes, blankets, food, hygiene products, and Christmas gifts. Storehouse began in 2000, and now serves more than 2,200 local people.
“Bearcats are taught to help others,” Lynn said. She once credited “God comes through, and performs a miracle” for Storehouse support of donors and volunteers. Storehouse (692-8300) is at 1059 Spartanburg Hwy/U.S. 176.
The Christian ministry’s Non-Gala Gala ($25/$20 in advance) fundraiser with food and games is Saturday, Oct. 26 at 6 p.m. It is in Cascades Mountain Resort at 201 Sugarloaf Road.
The 19th annual Blessings in Boxes in Storehouse is upcoming. Donors can sponsor an elementary or middle school child in Henderson County or a family, Nov. 1-Dec. 12. The county’s public schools refer students. Distribution of gift toys, books and clothes is Dec. 13-Dec. 14.
Right after the Hall of Fame halftime honors, the HHS homecoming queen and king were announced before fans. The queen is Katelyn Ledbetter, the most recent Miss Hendersonville Outstanding Teen. She is an HHS cheerleader, longtime Pat’s School of Dance student, and now Encore Dance Competitions for the Stars cover model. Her GPA is 3.6 unadjusted.
Katelyn said she aspires to be an ESPN sideline football television reporter. Her parents are Don Ledbetter (HHS ’90) and Tara Tinsley Ledbetter (Brevard H.S. ’94). Tara was Miss Harvest Moon in 1992.
HHS homecoming king Richmond Felton is a stocky 215-pound senior star linebacker, and a bulldozing running back. Felton told The Tribune he was stunned to get picked over popular quarterback .Woody Hunter.
Both Bearcats said it was awkward to be stationary in a pageant on the field. They eagerly got back out there in the second half, and broke open a close game in their Mountain Six opener.
Also that Friday, West Henderson crowned its homecoming queen. She is Makayla Cooper, senior cheerleader who is on the school dance team.
West (8-0) stomped Enka 35-14 that night, then won 37-14 at North Henderson (0-8) last Friday. Also Friday, HHS (4-4) dropped a 31-6 contest at Smoky Mountain (SMHS) while East Henderson (1-7) fell 54-6 to Pisgah.
East’s homecoming is Nov. 1, versus SMHS.