Building toward greatness
Despite having a four-win season in 2013, the Thomas Jefferson Academy Lady Gryphons volleyball team feels confident going into Monday’s season opener against Mitchell.
With an upperclassmen-stacked starting line up featuring seniors Callie Gillis, A’sia Wilson, Lauren Wiltsek, Autumn Edwards, Alyssa Edwards, the Lady Gryphons look to build on their limited success from last year.
Four wins may not seem like a successful season, but for the Lady Gryphons it showed dramatic progress from their winless 2012 season.
“We only won four games, but that is the best I have done since I’ve been here,” Lady Gryphons coach Jamie Carver said. “I’m in my fifth season here and before that we had won zero games every season.”
Carver attributes the Lady Gryphons’ previous failures to lack of experience, confidence and communication on the court.
“I had a young team. I only lost a few seniors and those seniors had not played all four years,” Carver said. “I had the numbers, but I did not have the experience. For some of the girls, they did not start playing volleyball until they were freshmen. I have some girls this year who did not play volleyball until they were juniors.”
Despite losing Gracie Hollifield (middle and outside hitter), Janice Dilgert (libero) and Isis Wilson (back row), the Lady Gryphons return their entire starting lineup from last season. Carver said she has high, but guarded hopes for the upcoming season.
“I’m really excited. Due to our past, I try not to get my hopes up to high,” Carver said. “I try to teach them to celebrate the little things. We had them do that in the past so their spirits don’t get down, but I’m excited. What I’ve seen in practice has been awesome.”
Carver said her team often found themselves in close games but let their opponents momentum overwhelm them, which led them into a downward spiral. The team started putting W’s in the win column win she taught them to celebrate the small victories — an ace, a well played pass, set and spike or using good judgement when they let a ball careen out of bounds.
“I always said ‘these girls just don’t know how to win yet. They did not have the confidence to fight, grit their teeth and take it to the end,’” Carver said. “Last year was the first time I saw that spark in their eyes. Them saying ‘no you’re not going to take this from me. We’re going to win it,’ I’m hoping they do the same thing this year and throughout the season.”
Their first win came against Mitchell, who had continuously pummeled the Lady Gryphons when they were both members of the Western Highlands Conference until 2013.
“It was a good confidence boost. Coming out of a time when we did not have very many wins, then winning, especially our first game, was a big deal for us,” Alyssa Edwards said. “[Mitchell] was in our old conference and beat us a lot. We switched conference but being able to beat them, even though it did not count as much, was a big win for us.”
Instead of moving on to another sport after the season, many of the Lady Gryphons continued honing their volleyball skills with other teams during the offseason.
“A lot of us seniors played club ball for the Forest City Comets,” Autumn Edwards said. “We all learned to gel better together. Working over the summer, we continued boosting our confidence and getting better and better.”
With renewed confidence, the Lady Gryphons believe they can be much more competitive than in years past and hope to start the season with another win against Mitchell Monday.
“I think this is going to be our year. We are going to win a lot more games than we have,” Gabbie Gray said. “We learned to work with each other better than in the past. Playing year-round and building confidence from last year has changed how we play.”