Head coach: Ron Fowler 68-39 at Jackson County
2020 record: 21-13, 6-3 Region 8-AAAAA
2020 result: 3rd place in Region 8-AAAAA, lost in first round of AAAAA State Playoffs
2020 Stat Leaders
Katie Hitt, Sr.: 243 kills, 61 aces, 244 digs
Carys Thao, Sr.: 185 kills
Gracie Herrin, Sr.: 145 kills, 33 blocks,
Sydney McCutcheon, So.: 712 assists, 68 aces, 26 blocks, 270 digs.
Kassidy Gross, Sr.: 39 blocks
Teams to Beat
Greenbrier: 34-3, 7-0. Won the Region 8-AAAAA Championship and finished season in the Elite Eight
Apalachee: 28-17, 8-1. Lost to Greenbrier in Region 8-AAAAA Championship Match and went on to end the year in the Elite Eight.
There’s an air of confidence you can feel when watching the Jackson County volleyball team in action. This squad knows it has what it takes to win a Region 8-AAAAA Championship.
The Panthers weren’t too far off that goal last season, in head coach Ron Fowler’s return to the program. Despite the lack of senior leadership, Jackson County finished with a 6-3 record in region play and third place in the standings. It just didn’t have enough firepower to keep up with region champs Greenbrier and runners-up Apalachee.
Fowler and his squad have been looking forward to 2021 since the end of last season knowing they had a more mature and deeper roster coming back.
“We definitely were excited about how well we did finishing the season, but there was also excitement knowing we didn’t have any seniors last year,” he said. “In all of my years in coaching, that was the first year we didn’t lose any seniors. Having the player back with game experience and the additions of some new ones is going to make for an exciting year for us.
“One of the great things coming out of camp is… we know we have really good players, but right now our challenge is figuring out where each one fits best. We’re really going to see that connection that’s going to be the best lineup to put on the court. We have several girls that can play multiple positions.”
STRENGTH AND AREAS OF IMPROVEMENT
The team was in agreement that chemistry and defense were the biggest areas it needed to improve before the 2021 season. According to sophomore Sydney McCutcheon everything the Panthers needed to tweak last year, they were able to perfect this year. However, improving on defense had a unique challenge.
“We all come from different clubs so we all play different defenses,” she said. “Now we’re working together on our high school defense, blocking together and transitioning.”
Seniors Katie Hitt and Gracie Herrin echoed McCutcheon's thoughts on the Panthers’ defense saying better communication and team chemistry is what they need to improve on defense. Fowler agreed with his team leaders.
“Getting to play some scrimmages, we definitely saw some things we needed to fix on the defensive side of the ball,” he said. “Which we knew. When you have girls that play for multiple clubs and run different defenses, we just needed to get our girls back here working together and running our defense. Once we fix that, we’ll be pretty solid.”
On the other side of the ball, Fowler believes his Jackson County can run an explosive offense in 2021.
With some of our additions and growth of some of the girls, offensively we should be able to do more with the ball,” he said. “We have girls hitting with more power, their placement seems to be better. I think our setter-hitter connection has really come a long way. It starts with defense, but we will be better on offense.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Katie Hitt, Sr.: Hitt was a force all over the court in 2020, leading the Panthers with 243 kills. She added 61 aces and 244 digs to her season totals. Hitt is one of two seniors entering their fourth season on the varsity squad (the other is Gracie Herrin).
“We had no seniors last year,” Hitt said. “That is going to really help us. We have the same team, except we’ve pulled up some players. I think that will give us an advantage.”
Gracie Herrin, Sr.: Herrin excelled on the Panthers’ front line last year. Her 145 kills was third best, but her 44.6 kill percentage led the team. She was also second on the team with 33 blocks.
As four-year varsity players, Hitt and Herrin are two of the stalwarts on the team. They both learned how to lead last year
“We’ve always had a younger team,” Herrin said. “Having to step into a leadership position was difficult at first. It’s easy to coach people and tell them where to be on the court, it’s harder to connect with people. Having to be a leader and step into that role makes you realize how you need to be a hand on the younger kids shoulders.”
Sydney McCutcheon, So.: McCutchen is coming off a stellar freshman year and a solid club season. She helped lead her club to two national champions in June. As a freshman, she led the Panthers with a whopping 712 assists and 68 aces. She added 26 blocks and 270 digs to her impressive stat line.
Sophie Harris, So.: Harris is the rising star of the team. She registered 90 kills and 54 aces to become a factor in Jackson County’s attack. She also played a good role on defense with 198 digs.
“We’ve seen tremendous growth from her,” Fowler said. “Even in terms of leadership and court presence.”
Other players: Fowler also mentioned other seniors Carys Thao and Kassidy Gross. Thao trailed Hitt with 185 kills while Gross led the team with 39 blocks. He says sophomore Ruthie Fowler has become one of the teams better hitters over the summer.
STUDENT SECTION RETURNS
Senior leadership wasn’t the only thing Jackson County missed last year. Because of COVID-19, the Panthers couldn’t play in front of the large crowds they are used to, that included the student section.
With sporting events returning to normal, the Panthers are excited about the return of the student section. They believe the return of the students plus the brand new gymnasium will spark even more enthusiasm from the community and students.
“Our student section is a big motivator,” Herrin said. “When you’re on the court and it’s just your team yelling, it’s nice to have that encouragement. It’s a whole other ball field. It’s encouragement from all of your friends, the community, and your parents.”
Fowler couldn’t understate the importance of having the student section back. He believes Jackson County has some of the best fans around, including members of the administration.”
“They can really be a gamechanger,” he said. “It’ll be exciting to get them back in here, back at full capacity, to get them excited about sports and the new school.
“Our administration has been great. Every home game, you’re going to see multiple members of our administrative team here watching and supporting the girls. Between the students, administration, teachers, that means the world to the girls. When they’re here, I really think we play better.
“It’s special. Not all schools get to experience that. But in Jackson County, our support system is phenomenal.”