DURING THE preseason Jefferson volleyball coach Mike Paul looked at a roster largely void of starting experience and had no choice but to declare this season a rebuilding year.
Here’s how the rebuilding has gone: a 19-7 record, no. 5 ranking in Class AA and a chance to win 30 matches again this year.
“Who would have ever thought that?” Paul asked.
Jefferson produced back-to-back 30-win seasons in 2010 and 2011 and a trip to the Sweet 16 last year with a nucleus of four players — Taylor Cramsey, Amanda Metcalf, Amanda Daniel and Eden Starnes — who were among the best in program history.
Those players are, of course, now gone. But the winning ways have remained.
Paul had to make some schematic changes to help make it happen.
Jefferson’s success is due in no small part to senior Sarah Wood, the lone hold-over from last year’s starting lineup.
Paul moved Wood to middle hitter this year so more of the offense could flow through her. But it wasn’t an easy sell at first.
“She didn’t go into this new position with a smile,” Paul said. “I had to kind of drag her into it. She was very hesitant moving to the middle. Kids get into a comfort zone and like where they are."
But being a team leader, it’s a role that Wood accepted, and the move has worked accordingly. Wood recorded 53 kills last week and is averaging about 10 kills per match.
“It’s allowed us to kind of do some things with her that we couldn’t have done with her in her previous position,” said Paul, who pointed out that Wood also moves to the outside at times.
Paul’s other move was installing a two-setter offense. It’s an offense that Paul ran for years before moving to a one-setter attack the past few seasons when he had Daniel as his setter.
By increasing the number of setters on the floor, it puts less pressure on a team’s passing and doesn’t put the burden on one player to initiate the team’s offense. Jefferson’s two setters, Paige Watson and Grace Williamson, have managed solid assist numbers this season.
“It’s been very balanced between the two,” Paul said.
Jefferson has gotten contributions throughout the rest of the lineup as well.
Amanda Flowers had 10 kills Thursday after coming into the season with less than 10 kills in her career. Avery Mixon is settling into a role as a defensive specialist. Lindsey Nielson, a freshman, is coming along nicely playing in the middle opposite of Wood, according to Paul. And Daniela Franco is a hard-hitter who is gaining more control over the placement of the ball.
“We don’t have the balanced attack we had the last few years,” Paul said. “We’re pretty top-heavy with Sarah leading the team in kills … but it’s coming. We’re not as new to it as we were at the beginning of the season.”
Jefferson, despite its mass exodus of seniors last year, was an early entry into the Class AA top 10 this year. That caught Paul a bit off guard.
“(I thought) OK, they’re basing it on last year’s group … It’s an honor but I was really shocked that we were there,” Paul said.
But as the season has progressed, Jefferson has lived up to that billing.
The splitting of Class AA and A this year, moved a lot of the private school powerhouses out of the Dragon’s classification. But Jefferson has proved its merit by beating several quality larger-classification programs. That list includes East Hall (18-9), Hart County (15-1), West Hall (14-8) and Johnson-Gainesville (13-6). Jefferson has also lost to top-tier programs like Mill Creek (25-4) and Apalachee (21-2).
“We haven’t dodged anybody,” Paul said. “We’ve played a lot of bigger schools this year.”
Meanwhile, two of the very best teams in Class AA reside in Jefferson’s own area.
The Dragons played no. 1 Wesleyan and no. 3 Greater Atlanta Christian and held their own in both losses.
“The gap between us is not as far as I would have thought at the beginning of the season,” Paul said.
There’s still a lot of volleyball left to be played, but the reason behind this year’s continued success may not be that much of a surprise.
“A lot of it has to do with — I personally believe — that in our program, the kids have learned to win,” Paul said. “We’ve got a stable program.”
Volley Dragons roll to 19-7
JEFFERSON upped its record to 19-7 Tuesday with wins over Clarke Central (25-22, 25-19) and Cedar Shoals (25-16, 25-17). It also lost to North Oconee (27-25, 25-17).
“All the matches were competitive but the match with North Oconee was the highlight with many great plays and high intensity,” Jefferson coach Mike Paul said.
Sarah Wood led Jefferson on the night with 27 kills, four assists, eight digs, three aces and two blocks.
Amanda Flowers added 12 kills, three digs and seven aces. Grace Williamson led Jefferson with 18 assists. She also had seven digs, six kills and one block. Paige Watson finished with 17 assists. She also had three digs and three aces.
Other statistical leaders on the night were Daniela Franco (11 kills, three aces), Lindsey Nilsen (seven kills, one block) and Avery Mixon (two digs, seven aces).
Jefferson picks up Thurs. wins
JEFFERSON picked up wins over Monroe Area (25-13, 25-15) and Johnson-Gainesville (25-18, 25-15) Thursday.
Sarah Wood led the Dragons in the win over Monroe Area with 10 kills, and Grace Williamson added eight aces. Jefferson coach Mike Paul said his team’s serving and offense in general sparked the victory over Johnson.
Wood led the Dragons on the night with a combined 21 kills and five assists. Williamson finished with 15 assists, 10 aces and three kills. Paige Watson also had 15 assists and one kill. Amanda Flowers had 10 kills and four aces.
Other statistical leaders were Lindsey Nilsen (six kills), Daniela Franco (five kills, three aces), Tamara Scandrett (two kills), Avery Mixon (four aces), Hannah Oliver (one ace) and Mallory Goodenow (one ace).