Liz Fields and Liz Byrne never could have imagined their construction project would go like this.
As volleyball veterans who played the sport in college, Fields and Byrne brought enthusiasm and a love for the game to their initial practices with Heritage Academy”s first-year volleyball program.
Like with teaching any new sport, Fields and Byrne knew they would need to spend a lot of time going over fundamentals to establish a foundation on which the Lady Patriots could build on.
Heritage Academy earned its first brick Tuesday night.
Led by a solid passing and serving effort, Heritage Academy defeated Columbus High School 3-1 (25-14, 22-25, 25-16, 25-17).
“I am speechless in a way,” said Fields, who played volleyball at the University of Alabama. “I can”t believe how far the girls have come since we first started practicing. Some of the girls have picked it up so quickly. I think they can do more than I expected.”
Said Byrne, who played volleyball at San Jose State, “I am ecstatic. This win shows the girls they can do it, and they”re going to run with it.”
Both coaches admit the team”s offense isn”t as far along as its defense, but they said that is to be expected. They said they purposely focused on serving, passing, and defense because “you can”t have an offense if you can”t pass.” Their concentration on serving showed its worth Tuesday, as the Lady Patriots had more service error in only one set, the one they lost. Heritage Academy had a team-high six aces in the first set, and had five more in game three after the teams split the first two sets.
In a sport in which momentum can swing on one play, Heritage Academy showed its poise, rallying from a 13-7 deficit thanks in large part to the serving of Natalie Hardy. She had five aces in a nine-point run that turned the tide. also had a tip at the net. Elizabeth Scott, a transfer from Starkville High, had a kill off a bad pass one point after the serving run ended to get Heritage Academy going again.
Both coaches applauded the support they have received from the administration and from the parents of the players. They said the girls have been equally involved and eager to learn, which is what makes their progress so encouraging.
“The whole team contributed to the win,” Fields said. “We didn”t teach them that. That is cool for a coach to see.”
Fields and Byrne said the next step will be to get an offense going. The Lady Patriots showed the ball control needed to get the first pass to the setter, who then has to pick the right hitter for a swing. The coaches are confident those skills will come, too, as the players have more time to work on their passing and their approaches to the net.
“We have some amazing athletes and the potential to go really far,” Fields said.
Said Byrne, “They are all athletes. It”s scary to think what the girls could do with a little training.”
Hardy had seven aces, Kristen Phillips had four kills, Harli Sesser had four kills and four aces, Scott had two kills and four aces, and Allie Allsup had two kills and three aces.
Columbus High School coach Kellye Jordan also is trying to build a program. The former Mississippi State player who is a student teacher (physical education) at Columbus High is an assistant coach, but she is working with a program that has had a revolving door when it comes to coaches. Shay Ashford spent the past two seasons as the team”s coach before taking a job earlier this year as an assistant girls basketball coach at Tupelo High.
Jordan played volleyball for three years at MSU before taking a medical redshirt after suffering two anterior cruciate ligament injuries, turf toe, and an ankle injury. This would have been her senior year at MSU.
“It has been a tough transition, but we”re getting there slowly but surely,” said Jordan, who was an outside hitter and is from Jasper, Ala.
Jordan said she always believed she would get into coaching because she wanted to stay around the sport. She said she would give anything to be able to go back to her freshman year in college and start over without any injuries.
MSU volleyball coach Jenny Hazelwood believes Jordan has the qualities to be a good coach.
“Kellye was always one of the hardest workers in the gym,” Hazelwood said. “I strongly believe this work ethic along with her volleyball knowledge will make her a great coach.”
Jordan showed a fiery side Tuesday, questioning the official about a Heritage Academy server being over the line and on a kill attempt by the Lady Patriots in set four that appeared to be wide.
But Jordan remained calm and stayed positive, clapping her hands while patrolling the sideline. Like Fields and Byrne, she said she has had to go back to the basics to help the Lady Falcons get going.
“Passing and serving is where you win and lose games, and that is where we”re struggling,” Jordan said. “It is a mental game. Volleyball is 85 percent or more mental. It has been like a roller coaster. I am trying to hold the girls to a higher standard and to get them to hold each other accountable.”
Jaitra Adams led Columbus with seven kills. She also had three aces. Tori Renaldi, a left-handed jump server, had nine aces and four kills, while Kameron Corruthers had five kills and three aces, Deja Richardson had four kills, and Amanda Hill had two aces.
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.