Leader Blues

Monday, August 20, 2007

SPORTS >>Red Devil volleyball athletes dedicated

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

The first three weeks of summer volleyball practice have generated much progress for the Jacksonville Lady Red Devils. There are three returning seniors, but it’s the juniors who make up the core of this year’s team. Senior captains Brittany Harrison, Amber Powlaski and Vanessa Brown provide the on-the-court leadership for the Lady Red Devils, along with second-year coach Melissa Reeves.

Last year was a difficult one for Jacksonville, with no conference wins after losing a number of seniors throughout the season. Reeves says there is a lot more dedication from the team in summer workouts this time around.

“We were very young last year,” Reeves said. “We had a whole bunch of sophomores, three juniors and only one senior. It’s the sophomores who are stepping up now as juniors. Those seniors that got a lot of playing time last year as juniors are really coming on strong.”

There are 18 players on the squad, including the three seniors. Also working in Jacksonville’s favor this year is the schedule, with seven home games after last year’s treacherous stint of nine straight road games. The players seemed to have put the struggles of last season behind them, and have kept excitement high at the practices.

“They are a great bunch of kids,” Reeves said. “They listen, they work hard, and they do what you ask them to do. There has been a lot of enthusiasm. We didn’t win any conference games last year, but I hope for us to make a run in there at some point this year. Our hitters have grown over the summer. The first week we were a little shaky, but they got better last week. They have done much better this week.”

Along with the seniors, the Lady Red Devils are getting help from athletes from other sports, including junior basketball standout Tyra Terry, who also started last year, and softball players Raven Pickett and Paula Burr. Jacksonville also picked up a player from Cabot, 6’0” sophomore Jessica Lanier will add a good dose of size to the Lady Red Devils’ lineup. ”

The seniors are enthusiastic about the upcoming season. Harrison, Powlaski and Brown talked to The Leader about their progress during the summer.

“It’s been going good,” Harrison said. “We’ve been working hard, helping the juniors and sophomores work with each other. We have a pretty good squad. Everyone is learning how to move on the floor and cover.” Back row player Powlaski says the team should have more hitting strength this season.

“I think we have more hitters than we did last year,” Powlaski said. “That should make us more competitive.”

Brown, along with Harrison, is a hitter for Jacksonville. Brown says the team has done well despite the sweltering summer heat.

“I hope that we can win more games this year,” Brown said. “Summer practices have gone well, but it’s been tough also. It’s been really hot.” Brown also laid out a typical day at practice for the Lady Red Devils, which begins with arm stretches before going into hitting drills. From there, they split into groups of three to practice sets and kills before a brief water break. After the break, it’s on to team offense and defense practice for the final half of practice.

The Lady Red Devils will start their season on Tuesday with a match against Little Rock Hall at the Devils Den.