AFTER winning four matches all of last year, the Jackson County volleyball team’s 3-3 start this fall might raise some eyebrows.
But not first-year coach Deborah Hayes’s.
“I’m not surprised,” Hayes said. “They’ve been working hard all summer and they’ve been doing a really good job. I’m really proud of them.”
Rebounding from an 0-2 start on the season, Jackson County beat Cedar Shoals (17-25, 26-24, 25-15) and rival East Jackson (16-25, 25-12, 25-16) last Tuesday (Aug. 19) and split a pair of matches Thursday, beating Hart County (25-12, 25-18) and losing to Madison County (25-13, 25-18).
The East Jackson and Hart County contests were both area matches, so the Panthers are off to a 2-0 start in 8-AAA play.
“I feel really good,” senior setter Kelcie Zimmer said. “I feel like we’ve improved a lot over the summer up to now. I feel like we’re coming together a lot as a team.”
Zimmer points out that this team lost seven seniors last year and returned only a handful of varsity players. But so far, the squad has been unfazed.
“It’s kind of almost surprising, but not quite because everybody is a really hard worker so I kind of expected to do well, but it’s been really good so far,” she said.
Hayes is very complimentary of Zimmer, who she points to as the team’s leader.
“We can’t do without Kelcie Zimmer,” she said. “She’s our setter. She’s like the quarterback of our team … She’s not as loud as some people think she is. But she — definitely on the court — tells them what they’re supposed to be doing.”
The coach also points to the powerful play of senior Kienna Ledford who “has some great kills” at the net.
“Straight down,” Hayes said. “You can’t defend that.”
The Panthers have also received contributions from younger players like freshmen Jenny Moua, Taylor Roland and Alanna Dorsey as well as sophomore Delanie Smith.
Through six matches and two area wins, Jackson County is beginning to believe it has what it takes to be a state tournament team. And that’s a direct reflection of Hayes’ coaching style.
“It’s always been said, ‘hey, let’s go to state,’ but it almost like nobody’s ever actually believed we could do it,” Zimmer said. “But coach Hayes, her belief and confidence in us to actually do it, has really shown through the team. Because people are starting to believe, ‘hey maybe we can actually go to state.’”
Hayes said she is really proud of this team.
“They’re really good girls,” she said. “They’re good girls on the court and off the court. That’s what makes me so happy. They all do well in school … I just love it. This is my first year, but I’m loving it.”
Jackson County is off until Tuesday when it faces Prince Avenue in non-area action. The Panthers return to area play next Thursday when they host Morgan County.
STATS: In the win last Tuesday against East Jackson, Ledford recorded eight kills and recorded six more in the victory over Hart County. Smith had four kills against Hart County and two against East Jackson. Zimmer was perfect with all her serves in both matches, allowing 12 points on serves against East Jackson and 16 points on serves against Hart County.