Head coach: Brittani Lawrence
2020 record: 30-9, 9-0 Region 8-AAAA
2020 result: Region 8-AAAA Champions, lost in AAAA Semi-Finals
2020 Stat Leaders
JoJo Smith, Sr.: 240 kills
Olivia Burrage, Jr.: 169 kills, 75 blocks
Annabelle Cox, Sr.: 139 kills, 70 aces
Abbey Howard, Sr.: 133 kills, 45 aces, 43 blocks
Kamdyn Hendrix, So.: 44 aces, 223 digs
Dallas Morse, Jr.: 41 aces, 17 blocks
Sophia Stopher, Jr.: 189 digs
Mia Mingus, Jr.: 167 digs
Teams to Beat
North Oconee 21-16, 9-3: Region 8-AAAA runners-up. Lost in second round of AAAA State Playoffs
Flowery Branch 15-15, 5-4: Third place in Region 8-AAAA standings but missed AAAA State Playoffs after losing two matches in Region 8-AAAA Tournament.
Most programs would enter a rebuilding season after losing five players from a final four team. The Jefferson High School volleyball team isn’t most programs.
Not only is Jefferson not rebuilding according to coaches and players, the Dragons have once agains set lofty postseason goals of capturing the Region 8-AAAA Championship (third-straight region title overall) and making a long run in the AAAA State Playoffs.
“Really, I feel like we are getting better every year,” said senior Mia Mingus. “Personally, this is my favorite team I’ve had in my four seasons. We’ve been coming together more than any team yet and we haven’t even started school ball. I think we’ll be really good.”
Fellow senior Dallas Morse echoed Mingus’s sentiments about the team’s chemistry and added that last year set a standard for Jefferson volleyball and the program now knows the heights it's capable of reaching.
“I think the connection this year is really special and that’s what’s going to drive us all the way to state,” she said. “I feel like it was tough to lose all those great leaders on our team, but we definitely have strong leaders coming up this year. Even lower classmen on the team have a leading role. We all know our jobs.
”Last year left us hungry, we want it this year. We know we can get there and we know we can get farther. Everyone was ready from the jump.”
Another senior Olivia Burrage chimed in to say “Losing last year in the Final Four made us want to work harder…. It takes a lot of training to make a leader. If we train hard, we’ll be as good as we were last year.”
The confidence Mingus, Morse and Burrage has is indicative of the culture head coach Brittani Lawrence has worked to install at Jefferson since joining the program.
I believe the leaders from last year, more importantly the seniors this year, are really defining what we want our culture to be,” Lawrence said. “We know what we want, we’re hungry to get back to the final four… and just keep fighting and battling the way we’ve been trained to do.
“We have learned so much from each other. Each of us has a job, each of us has a role, we embrace one another to form a united front to do what we do best: play a great game of volleyball.”
Jefferson didn’t just lose senior leadership from its Final Four team. Three of the Dragon’s four leading attackers last year graduated, including JoJo Smith who scored 240 kills. Jefferson also lost its three best servers, a trio which accounted for 162 of the team’s 318 aces.
The team needed a rebuild, but according to Lawrence, Jefferson didn’t dwell on the players it lost in the offseason. Instead, they view the legacy left by the 2020 seniors as something to build on.
“I applaud this team, during the month of June and especially during the month of July, we have had a rebuilding season,” she said. “We have rebuilt our program, our defense, our offense, our strategy. Is it perfect? No, but that’s OK. It is built and will continue to be perfected every single day.
“These ladies have definitely taken the initiative to focus on the legacy that was left behind, how that applies to them and really decide what Jefferson volleyball will look like in fall of 2021.”
What does that look like fundamentally? Mingus said the team has spent a lot of time trying new techniques such as slides and ways for the hitters to run. The Dragons’ haven’t worked to remain good at volleyball, instead they’ve worked to become proficient.
Helping speed up the rebuild process was Jefferson’s returning backline. The Dragons three best diggers are still with the team which allowed them to focus rebuilding the attack.
“This is probably the strongest defensive team I’ve ever had,” Lawrence said. “We were rebuilding our offense. We have done that and we have our defense to thank for that, whether we’re in serve receive or defending a kill.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Olivia Burrage, Sr.: Of Jefferson’s top four attackers from 2020, the only one still with the team is Burrage. She was second on the squad with 169 kills and she led the squad with 75 total blocks.
“[Olivia] has definitely done a lot of training in the offseason,” Lawrence said. “She has grown stronger on ‘what is her job, what is her goal as a middle hitter and as a middle blocker.’ I think she got taller, that definitely works in our favor.
“Even though she constantly plays on the front row, she’s made some great defensive digs for us on the back row before.”
Gertie Nazaroff, So.: After Jefferson’s four leading attackers was freshman Gertie Nazaroff with 69 kills in just 51 sets played. While Burrage commands the middle of the net, Nazaroff is leading the attack from the outside.
“She’s another offensive player who knows how to handle a hot ball,” Lawrence said. “She did some work in the off season too, to decide how she can contribute to the team.”
Dallas Morse, Sr.: Like Nazaroff, Morse will also play a larger role in Jefferson’s attack this year. She scored 59 kills in 2020, while also making 41 aces and 17 blocks.
“Dallas is one of our best blockers,” Lawrence said. “She knows how to own the net, she knows how to kill a ball. Serving-wise, she added a lot of aces last year, that;s exactly what she’s going to do this year. She’s always prepared for a challenge.”
Kamdyn Hendrix, Jr.: Jefferson excelled at scoring on aces last year and the best returning player is Hendrix who was fourth on the squad with 44. However, she was most proficient on defense, making a team leading 223 digs.