EAST JACKSON coach Tim Thomas is cautiously optimistic about his team’s 2011 fortunes – and the key word here is optimistic.
Armed with three seniors that have played exclusively under Thomas’s direction for four years, East Jackson enters the fall season coming off a 10-win campaign in 2010.
Jill Edmonson (setter), Haley Simmons (right side hitter-middle hitter) and Rebekah Poponi (middle hitter) all return for their fourth year after starting their careers 2008, the very year Thomas took over at East Jackson. Thomas points to the foundation that’s been instilled with these veteran players leading the way.
“Not to take anything away from the previous coach, but there’s a lot to be said for the rapport you have with players who haven’t played for anyone else,” Thomas said.
East Jackson, which has upped its win total each year under Thomas, has other pieces in place, too.
Monique Khang (receiver-setter), Mimi Khang (setter-receiver) and Jamie Beauchamp (outside hitter-receiver) all return for their senior seasons, though they don’t have four years worth of playing experience.
Talented junior Rosie Menendez may very well be one of the best servers on the team along with Poponi. A year-round player, Menendez played setter last year but the skill she gained playing club ball has enabled her to move to outside hitter.
Much-improved junior Urlissa Sheffield, a junior varsity player last year, will likely fill the other outside hitter spot. Junior Jasmine Motes will play middle hitter. Sophomore transfer Madison Mealor should also provide a huge boost at middle hitter.
East Jackson still has two spots to fill on its varsity roster.
“We’re looking at about six girls for those two spots,” Thomas said.
Thomas praises the harmony that exists on the team in his fourth year with the team, adding that good team chemistry is something on which he and his staff have put a premium.
“If I could look just at quality of individuals and quality people, this is the best quality group I’ve ever worked with,” Thomas said.
Thomas added, “ I think that’s the no. 1 thing. They all get along great. There’s no in-fighting. They all get along, and I think that is going to be the biggest asset.”
Thomas said the team’s hitting has improved, while East Jackson’s defense – which was stout two seasons ago – should be strong again in 2011.
The wildcard could be serving. Thomas believes East Jackson was one of the best serving squads around last year, but the team graduated star player and strong server Jenna Dukes, along with Kiersten Meehan and Brittany Smith, who were both very good servers. But if the Eagles can regain that serving strength, East Jackson may make some noise in 2011.
“If we can get that serving back to where it was last year, we should definitely be better than we were last year,” Thomas said.
East Jackson hasn’t set forth any goals for the fall yet, but the big picture is clear-cut for the gradually-improving Eagles.
“I told them when I came in, the first year I was there, that as long as I was there that the end result goal would always be to qualify for the state tournament,” Thomas said. “In my mind that doesn’t change. That’s the pinnacle of what you want to do every year. You want to go to the state tournament. So we’ll throw that at them again this year.”
NOTES: East Jackson has added Clarke Rainwater, a longtime coach in the county in several sports, as an assistant … Thomas said the team – which doesn’t have any feeder programs other than the JV – is still building as he enters his fourth year on the job and appreciates the support of the administration. “Our athletic department is hugely supportive of our program. (Athletic director Richard) Crumley and I have an incredible rapport. I think they understand that it takes time to do something like this.” … East Jackson’s opener is Aug. 13 at home against Madison County, Lumpkin County, Cedar Shoals and Jackson County.