April Reese and Abigail Wise knew they were going to have to step into bigger roles this year on the Starkville High School volleyball team.
Coming off the program’s best season in history and losing several key performers, including seniors Khris Carr and Vicky Vo, Reese and Wise realize they are going to have to make their presence known at the net if Starkville is going to return to the playoffs and build on its first playoff victories and a trip to the Class III North State title match.
Reese and Wise did their best to make that impression felt last weekend at the Set It Off Challenge at Millsaps College in Jackson. With junior Kelsey Jones also offering important contributions, Reese and Wise led the way offensively and defensively to help Starkville go 2-2 at the annual tournament, which featured some of the state’s top programs.
For their accomplishments, Reese and Wise are The Dispatch’s Prep Players of the Week.
Playing in the Gold Division, Starkville lost to Our Lady Academy 25-12, 25-19 and defeated Olive Branch 24-26, 25-14, 16-14 on Friday. The win avenged a loss to Olive Branch earlier in the week at Starkville. On Saturday in the consolation bracket of the Gold Division, Starkville lost to Ridgeland 25-23, 25-23 and beat Meridian 25-13, 25-12
Reese, a 5-foot-10 middle blocker, had 16 kills, four solo blocks, three block assists, and two aces this past weekend to help lead Starkville. Wise, a 6-foot middle blocker, had 13 kills, six solo blocks, and 12 block assists, while Jones, a standout on the school’s girls basketball team, had 21 kills, one solo block, and two block assists.
Reese said her chance to play in the Mississippi Association of Coaches All-Star volleyball game last month at Millsaps College helped her realize what she had to do as a senior to help provide leadership to the team.
“I saw I can be this good, so when I came back (to the Starkville High team) I need to push myself even more and I need to lead everyone and bring them with me so we can be better than we think we can,” Reese said.
Starkville High coach Lauren Love said Reese and Wise have improved from last season and that they solidify different aspect of the team.
“April does a great job for our team playing all six rotations,” Love said. “If one aspect of her game is off, she doesn’t lose focus on the rest of her play. She competes at the next, defensively, and from the service line.
“Abigail has worked to improve her blocking footwork, which has helped her to be a better blocker. That is very important for our defense.”
Reese said she has tried to become more than just a front-row player.
“I have always loved passing, so I love being in the back row as much as I do being in the front row,” Reese said. “Being able to get that dig and to make the perfect pass, it is the same feeling as getting a really good kill.”
Reese said her goal is to continue to play the sport in college. She plays club volleyball with Mississippi Juniors, which is coached by former Mississippi State volleyball coach Tina Seals. Reese hopes her versatility will help her realize her goal of playing in college.
“My main goal is to lead my team as far as we can make it because I think we can make it pretty far if everyone puts in the effort and does their best,” Reese said. “I just want to give it my all because it is my last year here with everyone.”
Wise, who also plays soccer at the school, also would like to play volleyball in college. She said she has pushed herself to improve on her blocking. Last season, she played behind senior Kayla Minor, who encouraged her to be better. She hopes she can play a similar role to the younger players and motivate them to mature as players.
As for herself, Wise hopes to continue to put the things Love has taught her to be a factor at the net. She said Love’s encouragement has given her confidence to know she can make an impact on the match if she focuses and gives her best effort.
“I know coach believes in me, and once I get that block I can get another one, too,” Wise said. “I think I have improved from all the summer workouts that we have had and the experience that I have had. Those things have helped me so much in the games. I really want to work on getting higher on my jump and become more of a leader to the girls who look up to me on junior varsity and varsity and push them to be better.
“I think when we strive and communicate and do what we’re taught and coached to do, I think we can go really far.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.