Editor’s Note: The Dispatch will preview some of the area’s volleyball teams this week leading up to the start of the 2017 season.
CALEDONIA — Volleyball coaches will tell you two sets don’t get you all the way home.
Samantha Brooks has played in and coached in enough matches to know it takes winning three sets to secure a victory. Still, the Caledonia High School volleyball coach had to be pleased with what she saw from her team last week at the Bob Bertucci Camp in Tupelo.
Although it is another week before the season officially begins, Caledonia, a Class 4A school, beat Class 6A member Tupelo in a set to 25. Brooks said Tupelo defeated Caledonia later in the day by two points in a set to 15 in the championship.
Seniors Connor Boykin, Claudia Garcia, and Bailie Cross liked their team’s effort against Tupelo. They hope to play integral roles in helping Caledonia improve on those performances when matches count for good.
“We got more confident with each other and got closer as we got to play with each other more (at the Bertucci camp),” said Garcia, who has been playing volleyball since the sixth grade. “I think this year we are closer. We try to lift each other up more. We are all friends and we all hang out.”
Last season, Caledonia (27-6) recorded one of its best seasons in recent memory in Brooks’ 11th year as coach. A senior class of Kaylee Jernigan, Jensen Reed, Cheyenne Ruth, and Gracie McCleskey played key roles in pushing the team to the second round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class II playoffs, where it lost to Lewisburg 3-1.
This season, Brooks is optimistic about the squad’s chances, even if it doesn’t have a lot of height in its attacking positions.
Brooks liked the scrappiness she saw from her team, especially from rising sophomore libero Maddy Suggs, who earned the varsity squad’s Coaches Award on the final day of the camp.
Brooks also knows she will be able to count on Cross, a rising senior, who won the Coaches Award at the camp in 2016. Earlier this month, Cross played in the Mississippi Association of Coaches (MAC) Senior All-Star game. She agrees with Brooks that the performance against Tupelo will give Caledonia, a Class 4A school, added incentive to realize its potential.
“I think when we beat them it was a huge accomplishment for us because they are always a really big rival,” Cross said. “It was really encouraging to know we lost by only two points and that we are super close to them.”
Cross, who hopes to play volleyball in college, and her classmates hope heart, chemistry, communication, and scrappiness combine to form a deadly combination for Caledonia. She feels Caledonia can beat “any team we play if we play together and support each other like we have been doing for such a long time and keep having hustle.” She isn’t sure if she would have been able to say that in past seasons, but she senses a positive vibe from this year’s group.
Brooks feels all of her players are invested in part because they are so active on different sports teams at the school. She will get a chance to see that investment pay off in the second match of the season, which will be against Tupelo at home. Caledonia will open its season next Monday against Heritage Academy in an away match.
“Every year our goal is to win State, but I feel it is totally attainable because of what we’re doing in the preseason,” Brooks said. “We have an All-Star (Cross). Then we had these Division I coaches come in and do a camp (the Bertucci event) for these girls. I was able to sit back and watch and I learned some new drills that we can implement.
“As well as we did (at the Bertucci camp), I think it will help set the tone for the season and let’s set the bar and let’s do some big things. We have the team to do it.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.