The Dragons enjoyed one of the most memorable seasons in program history last year. That doesn’t mean they liked the way it ended.
The Jefferson volleyball team won 35 matches and claimed its first-ever area title in 2019, but bowed out of the state tournament with a second-round loss to private school power Greater Atlanta Christian.
The Dragons haven’t forgotten.
“The ending to last season has stirred the pot as we are not happy how it ended, and we have picked it up where we left off,” said fifth-year coach Brittani Lawrence, who was last year’s 8-AAA Coach of the Year.
With a cast of returning players that includes standout JoJo Smith — last year’s 8-AAA Player of the Year— Jefferson looks to play further into October and perhaps November this year as it tackles a new classification, Class AAAA.
The Dragons open the season Aug. 11 at home against Gainesville and Cherokee Bluff.
Here’s a look at the Jefferson volleyball team:
•Last year: 35-6
•Returning starters: JoJo Smith (outside hitter), Annabelle Cox (outside hitter), Abbey Howard (middle hitter), Olivia Burrage (middle hitter), Maddie Grace Smith (setter), Sophia Stopher (defensive specialist), Kam Hendrix (defensive specialist), Mia Mingus (defensive specialist), Bailey Williams (defensive specialist)
•Other key contributors: Dallas Moore (right side/defensive specialist), Bekah Johnson (setter/defensive specialist), Gertie Nazaroff (right side)
•Strengths: Jefferson returns the majority of its 35-win, area championship team from last year, so varsity experience is aplenty. JoJo Smith is back for her senior year after recording 185 kills, 189 digs, 25 aces and 22 blocks in her Player of the Year campaign of 2019. She is joined by Maddie Grace Smith (524 assists, 195 digs, 104 aces), Annabelle Cox (156 kills), Olivia Burrage (117 kills, 37 blocks) and Sophia Stopher (308 digs). Lawrence said the team is busy “advancing our fundamentals and incorporating new tactics” in preparation for 2020. She also praises the team’s chemistry, calling it a “sisterhood.”
•Weaknesses: Just like everyone else, Jefferson is feeling the effects of not being allowed scrimmages due to COVID-19 restrictions. “Summer scrimmages normally help us work out our kinks, so we hope we already have them handled as the first couple of matches are against tough competitors,” Lawrence said.
•Area outlook: Jefferson looks to “dominate,” according to Lawrence, as it moves up to Area 8-AAAA. “Although we moved up an area, I still expect this team to leave it all on the court,” she said. The Dragons’ new area opponents are Cedar Shoals, Chestatee, East Hall, Flowery Branch, Madison County and North Oconee. Madison County was a 26-win team last year, while North Oconee won 20 matches. “There are multiple teams in the area that are very talented, so I expect a good match-up,” Lawrence said.
•Season outlook: While Jefferson won 35 matches a year ago, Lawrence said this year’s record might looking different with a schedule that includes stout competition from programs in tough volleyball areas from Class 3A to Class 7A. “This year's team motto is to play with heart,” Lawrence said. “It is my wish to witness the players embrace that mindset and play every time like it is their last time.”