WITH VOLLEYBALL season quickly approaching, Jefferson head coach Mike Paul and his Dragons are fast at work preparing for an August 8 opening contest with Gainesville High School.
While Paul feels confident that his team will be ready, he says that there are several things that need to be addressed in the next two weeks.
“We still have a lot of question marks right now,” said Paul. “We have a great group of girls and I really like our team, but we are changing offenses and a couple players who played last year are being moved to new positions.”
After graduating four seniors in 2012, a new starting lineup is providing some opportunity for experimentation for Paul and the Dragon coaching staff.
Jefferson went 28-16 in 2012, running an offense with four hitters. This year Paul plans on trying an offense that provides the Dragons with six players that are available to hit the ball.
“Hopefully it’s a more explosive and dynamic offense,” added Paul. “But that remains to be seen. We may go back to the other setup when it’s all said and done. We’ve just been experimenting with things this summer and seeing if we like our setup.”
Even with the new system coming in, the Dragons are in no short supply of experience.
Mallory Goodenow is the sole senior on the 2013 squad, but she is backed up by a core of experienced junior and sophomore players that includes: Daniela Franco, Grace Williamson, Paige Watson, Avery Mixon, Tamara Scandrett, Marie Philibaum, Lindsey Nilsen, Madison Corbett and Olivia Przybysz.
The Dragons have already been working out and practicing during the summer. Most recently, Jefferson held its yearly camp and played several scrimmage matches at Johnson High School.
This year, Jefferson will automatically qualify for the state tournament by default because there are only four teams in its area; however, if the Dragons finish at the bottom of their area, they will inevitably face a number-one seed from another area.
That means the Dragons will need to put up strong performances against Weslyan, Greater Atlanta Christian and Rabun County – all of which Paul noted to be “very tough teams.”
Still Paul says his goals remain the same year in and year out.
“Our goals as always are to get to the state tournament, peak at tournament time and play for the area championship,” he said. “That’s a tough goal to reach knowing the area we are in, but we want to host that first-round playoff game.”
Paul has been coaching volleyball for 17 of his 30 years as a teacher and has notched over 300 wins – making him one of the winningest volleyball coaches in the state.
But when asked about achieving that milestone, he humbly quipped, “What that means, is that I’m old. I’ve been at this for a long time.”
Paul attributes much of his success as a head coach to the players he has worked with over the years.
“Bottom line – I’ve had good kids to work with that listen to what I say,” said Paul. “They trust me and believe in me.”
Paul noted that he takes what he can from other coaches and is still learning new techniques and drills even after 17 years of coaching.
One facet of Paul’s career is for certain; he has produced clear-cut results when it comes to the volleyball program at Jefferson High School.
In the last couple of years, the Dragons have had four athletes go on to play volleyball at the collegiate level, including: Sarah Wood (Reinhardt), Taylor Cramsey (Piedmont), Erin Crant (Truett McConnell) and Emily Wood (Bruton Parker).
Still, Paul says the credit largely goes his players, who go above and beyond the call of normal high school athletes.
“These kids are dedicated,” Paul said. “To play at the next level these days. You have to dedicate yourself to the sport for more than just the high school season. We have a good many girls who play off-season volleyball. They dedicate a lot of time and their parents put in a lot of money.”