FIRST-year Jackson County volleyball coach Deborah Hayes made sure to tell her new team that she’s cleared out her calendar for the month of October.
That’s because she expects the Panthers to be playing in the state tournament then.
“They looked at me like I was crazy,” Hayes said. “But I said, ‘I’m serious.’ This team is good.”
Jackson County senior Kieanna Ledford said that Hayes’ confidence definitely left an impression.
“I’m glad she’s very confident in us and she thinks we can do it,” she said. “That’s a big step for our program.”
Hayes, Jackson County’s fourth coach in four years, takes over the Panther program after having coached several sports over the years, including track, basketball and cheerleading, in addition to volleyball. But this is her first stint as a head coach at the high school level.
Hayes said the transition has gone smoothly.
“The girls are awesome,” said Hayes, who said she was impressed with how her team performed in scrimmages last week. “They’ve just been very open to me coming in. I taught all of them at the middle school. So they know me and I know them. So it’s a little bit easier.”
And, as evident by her October calendar statement, Hayes believes she has a team that will compete for a postseason spot immediately.
To get there, however, Jackson County will have to contend with an area that includes teams like Oconee County, Jefferson, Hart County and Morgan County, as well as rival East Jackson. But Hayes has total confidence in this group.
“I think it’s going to be good competition,” Hayes said. “I’m not afraid of them. I don’t think the girls are afraid of them. I’m ready.”
Ledford said this year’s squad is more cohesive than in the past and believes it has the potential to fulfill Hayes’ expectation of getting to state.
“I think if we all work hard and are together, then I think it’s possible to actually do it,” Ledford said.
Hayes’ confidence in this team stems from the players she has at her disposal.
The first name Hayes mentions is Ledford, whose height at 6-0 is an advantage, while she called senior Kelcie Zimmer “phenomenal.” Hayes is also expecting big things out of Delaney Smith once she returns from injury. Meanwhile, Alana Dorsey and the versatile Taylor Roland are two freshmen who will be counted on immediately. Jenny Moua is another freshman who could compete for a starting spot. Jackson County has added transfer player Emily Brooks, who is the team’s libero, but can play anywhere.
The Panthers open the season Aug. 12 and Hayes is ready to get going.
“I just can’t wait to start,” Hayes said. “I’m looking forward to an exciting year.”
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