THE JEFFERSON volleyball team abides by a hard and fast rule concerning last year.
“We’re not supposed to talk about last season,” said Grace Williamson, the team’s standout outside hitter.
Well, about last season: the Dragons tied a school record with 34 wins and advanced to the Final Four for the first time in program history.
Senior setter Paige Watson said the gag order on discussing last year isn’t always easy to follow — after all it was the most successful season in program history — but knows the focus must lie on the daunting season ahead with Jefferson moving up to Class AAA.
The Dragons start the season Aug. 9 at a tournament at Flowery Branch.
“It’s hard because sometimes we want to talk about it because it was so exciting,” Watson said. “But we also know it makes us like a target now since we were in the Final Four.”
And life in Class AAA will offer new challenges.
“Players (in Class AAA) are bigger and stronger,” coach Mike Paul said. “The competition is just as tough if not tougher. We can’t rest on what we did last year.”
Still, the bar remains high for Jefferson, which returns seven seniors and 11 of 12 lettermen from last year’s semifinals team.
With Williamson, the Dragons posses a player who can play anywhere on the court. Paul moved her from setter — were she made all-area — to outside hitter last year and she became an all-area performer again with 226 kills.
Jefferson boasts two other all-area selections from last year — Olivia Przybysz and Abby Wood. Przybysz earned that distinction as a sophomore at libero — a position heavy on defense and little on glory. Wood earned all-area honors as a freshman at outside hitter.
As for Watson, Paul describes the fourth-year setter and the Dragons’ captain as the consummate team leader.
The team will also count on middle hitter Bre Arbanas, who Paul called the team’s most improved player; Lindsey Nilsen, who has started the past two years; and seniors Daniela Franco and Avery Mixon, who both play on the right side of the floor.
Paul is concerned about his team’s overall lack of height again this year with most of the program’s taller players still at the junior varsity level. He’s also concerned about finding court time for everyone. Not only does Jefferson return its wealth of letterman, it also has several young players awaiting their turn on the court. But that’s an issue he’s happy to deal with.
“Depth is always a nice problem to have,” Paul said.
To prep for the postseason, Paul made sure to ratchet up the competition considerably with matches against Athens Academy, Hebron Christian (the state runner-up last year in Class A) and Habersham Central (which beat Jefferson twice last year).
“We probably have the toughest scheduled we’ve ever made — on purpose,” Paul said.
Then in area play, the Dragons will face the likes of Oconee County, Morgan County and Hart County as well as local rivals Jackson County and East Jackson.
Watson said a more grueling slate will only benefit the team.
“I think there’s going to be some new competition, so it will be good for us,” she said. “It will help us to work a little bit harder during the season before we get to the state playoffs.”
So it appears that Jefferson has every intention of being a forward-focused team — one that’s ready to put last year’s exploits in the past.
“We just haven’t even talked about it,” Williamson said. “All we’ve talked about is this season — starting fresh and moving forward I guess.”
As Paul put it, “We can’t rest on that (Final Four) banner over there.”
Display comments as (Linear | Threaded)
The author does not allow comments to this entry