FC volleyball 2022: Mix of experience, attitude

by Sean Dunlap

Mississippi High School Activities Association-sanctioned practices for volleyball officially began on Monday with the Lady Bulldogs preparing to enter their third competitive season and expectations running high for a solid run through the upcoming fall campaign.

Franklin County High School Head Volleyball Coach Ashley Barnes said the growth of the sport – in terms of individual and team skills as well as overall popularity on campus and in the community -- bodes well for its future.

“We’re extremely excited to get things started this week after doing a variety of off-season preparations and learning new skills that we plan to execute for the upcoming season,” Barnes said. “Our girls have grown dramatically – in areas like serving, passing and defense -- since the program started and they have all progressed fundamentally. When you look at how Franklin County volleyball has grown since its inception, it would be hard to be anything but excited.”

Barnes said enthusiasm has been a constant since volleyball debuted, and she doesn’t see that slowing because of the effort and hustle being put forth on the court by her Lady Dawgs.

“I think the passion comes from volleyball being a fun and exciting sport,” she continued. “The energy behind our growth as a program starts with the eagerness of our girls to come out and give their best, whether it is in practice or in game situations.

“Another force driving us is attitude with the girls wanting to be involved, wanting to improve in all aspects of the game and wanting to be their best whether they play an entire set or get into the game for a couple of minutes in a substitution role.”

Barnes said she has players who want to stay after practice to improve their skills or reach out to her or Assistant Coach Tasha Scott during the day, at night or on weekends in seeking tips and advice to get better in a particular aspect of the game.

“I feel like that speaks volumes to the importance our players are placing on doing the little things that can help them contribute to the overall success of this team,” she continued. “Those are the steps that will take Franklin County volleyball to even higher levels in 2022 and beyond.”

This season, Barnes and Scott lead a program from middle through high school that is made up of 40 girls with a significant number of those varsity participants being upperclassmen who have been on the roster since the sport began.

“The older girls have really worked to set the foundation and have gone the extra mile to take our younger players under their wings to share their experience and bring them along,” Barnes went on to say. “Specifically, our seniors and juniors are passing down the skills they have learned and show – in a tangible fashion – the value of hard work, determination and making adjustments that can make the difference between getting the win or taking a loss.

“Also, I think our upperclassmen have played a big role in generating positive attitudes for everyone on the roster and we expect that to pay dividends throughout the upcoming season. Simply put, attitude shapes the team and its direction, leads to a true definition of teamwork with everyone pulling in the same direction toward a common goal and lifts everyone up.”

Another strength Barnes sees in her team is overall effort in any given situation.

“If we’re behind or make a mistake, I feel like we can count on our girls to pull through and persevere in whatever situation they face,” she added. “That means putting the past behind us and focusing on doing our best on every single serve or defensive stand in giving ourselves opportunities to excel.

“The reality is that you can’t coach effort, and I don’t think that’s anything we’ll run short of in 2022.”

Scott agreed with Barnes’ assessment in noting that effort was best demonstrated during preseason tryouts in which more than 80 girls vied for spots on the volleyball roster.

“I don’t think you would see that level of enthusiasm if there wasn’t that underlying desire to want to come out to play and make a contribution to the team,” Scott continued. “I credit this to the girls who have played for us with a lot of heart since day one and made this sport fun because they don’t get enough of it, which goes back to effort.”

Scott said the progression of Lady Bulldogs’ volleyball at every level can be traced to experiences over the years – particularly learning to set up plays – which wasn’t really on the radar when the sport got its start.

“I think we were all just learning the ropes when this began and it was a quick learning curve for the coaches and the players because our No. 1 goal back then was just getting the ball back over the net,” she added with a laugh. “Now, the focus is more on competitive strategies, communicating constantly and seeing the big picture whether we’re serving or returning the volleyball.”

Now, with a roster filled with seniors and juniors, Scott said the level of experience is a doubled-edged sword where she is concerned.

“I see their leadership as pivotal to what we hope to accomplish this season,” she noted.

“At the same time though, it’s emotional for us because some of those who have been here since the start will be going into their final season. We could not have asked for a greater group of girls to build a program because they are leaders to our younger players and they bring the excitement.”

To this end, Scott said she and Barnes are putting a renewed emphasis in 2022 on developing a “farm system” to volleyball with the further development of a middle school program that will feed players into the junior varsity and varsity ranks for years to come.

“We started the middle school program last year and had like four games,” she said. “The goal was to do more with it if we wanted the sport to grow at Franklin County. This year, while we were working on the schedule of games, we would ask other schools if they had a middle school program and would they be willing to play us.”

Scott believes getting the “basics” of the game instilled at the middle school level will make for a stronger, more competitive high school program.

“There’s something to be said for a girl that started playing for us in the seventh grade to build a foundation and see what she can accomplish by the time she reaches 11th or 12th grades,” she added. “We do that with other sports programs in bringing younger players along, and volleyball should be no different.”

Scott said last season for the Lady Dawgs was about punching their ticket to the post-season, which they did. For 2022, the goal is pretty similar, but with the desire to go further into the playoffs by building on their competitive edge.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt of how hard we worked last season, and it’s going to take that and a little more in 2022,” she noted.

“Our desire is not just to get to the playoffs, but to be a team that can compete with programs that are part of the post-season on a regular basis.”

The Lady Dawg volleyball team’s roster includes:

• Senior returners Ja’Kya Brown, Niyla Wright, Gabby O’Quinn, Karlee Wallace, Maddie Moak and Amberly Wallace;

• Junior returners Sadye Scott, Kennedy Washington, Marianna Thomas, Indayshia Morgan, Dashara Hannon, Kennedi Cook and Lauren McCaa;

• Sophomore returners Sophia Miller, Makenzie Starks and Gabrielle Hannon;

• Freshman returners Bradi Wallace, Kaitlyn Washington, Katie Temple and Gre’Yonne Queen.

Additions to the high school roster include: Katherine Romero, Makayla Bonds, Anihyah Bee and Cara Carbery.

The 2022 middle school squad is made up of Jhalayah Tillman, Savannah Emfinger, Kaydence McCaa, Kaleigh King, Alyssa Yates, Aubrey Windom, Kaytlyn Carter, Ky’vionn Burnett, Isabella Hill, Kaylee Weadock, Malia Humphrey, Emma Claire Stebbins, India Brooks, Genesis Richardson, Shelby Brewer and Karsyn Walker.