After a 4-17 season last year where the Cedar Shoals volleyball team showed substantial growth, this year’s team aims to compete at a higher level. The varsity team is currently 4-10 with impressive wins over Putnam County (3-0), Elbert County (2-0), and two wins over Commerce (2-0, 2-0).
The Lady Jags are averaging 2.9 kills, 4.3 aces, and .4 digs per set while adding 13 total blocks and 78 serving aces so far this season.
The team’s Head Coach Jessica Colquitt, now in her third season at Cedar, senses a different mindset this season.
“In previous years, volleyball was a sport that people would play just for fun,” Colquitt said. “Practice wasn’t very serious and you didn’t have to come to everything, but this year is about ‘You are a winner and you can win.’”
Junior outside hitter Kori Edmonds also sees a new, more serious mentality.
“We definitely have a stronger drive to win,” Edmonds said. “We are more dedicated than we have been in the past.”
The team’s belief in its ability to win has translated to an increase of attacking plays on the court. The team switched up its strategy this season to become more offensively minded, making it harder for their opponents to defend.
“In past years, we sent a lot of free balls over to the other team and that’s really easy for them, so now it’s about ‘Let’s be offensive instead of defensive,’” Colquitt said.
The new strategy is evident in games as the Lady Jags already have 119 attacking attempts through 14 games compared to 99 attacking attempts in 21 games last season.
With seven seniors from last year’s team graduating and a few players not returning, this season’s team lacks experience. One standout player stepping up is sophomore setter Destiny Strickland, replacing 3-year varsity setter Louren Patterson who graduated.
“She is starting as a 10th grader in the setting position, really being the captain on the floor,” Colquitt said. “She dictates the speed of the game and she’s been phenomenal in that role and trying to fill that hole that Louren left behind.”
Team members attribute their improvements to Strickland’s communication on the court.
“She has to communicate with her hitters and know where we like our sets, like whether we like them on the net, off the net, high, or low. She’s important because the reason why we would get a point if we have a good set is because of her,” senior Co-Captain Ashley Jones said.
From masks while playing to no handshakes after the game, volleyball feels very different during the pandemic. The team wasn’t able to condition this spring so it had to make it up during summer workout sessions. Not everyone attended these sessions because some players had to quarantine due to possible COVID-19 exposure.
“We haven’t had anybody test positive on our team, but they’ve had a relative or friend that they were in contact with so they’ve been in quarantine for two weeks which forces us to change our plans,” Colquitt said.
COVID-19 isn’t the only new obstacle. The classification drop-down from class 5-A to 4-A means the team faces new opponents. New region foes Chestatee, East Hall, Flowery Branch, North Oconee, Madison County, and Jefferson are all new region opponents, and players are scouting the new teams before they play them.
“We always like to see them play while they’re warming up, then we focus on what they’re good at and what they are weaker at,” Jones said.
“Jefferson, we play them next Thursday, and we’re already looking forward to that game,” Colquitt said. “We’re going to have to play as a team, so we need everybody there and healthy just to be able to beat them. They’re a great team.”
Jefferson is the Lady Jags’ toughest opponent left on their regular season schedule. The Dragons are ranked No. 40 in Georgia while the Lady Jags are ranked No. 277 according to Maxpreps.
The Lady Jags’ next matches will take place in Gainesville, on Thursday, Sept. 10 where they take on Chestatee (1-8) and Jefferson (12-5).
“You know they have really talented girls so we’re putting in as much work as we can and trying our absolute best to come out on top and beat those teams,” Edmonds said.