Jaguars’ confidence and wins slowly coming along

mblake@newsobserver.comSeptember 12, 2013 

— Athens Drive’s volleyball team has had some success this season. A .500 record against a tough schedule earned the Jaguars a spot as the No. 12 team in The News & Observer rankings.

But there is a mental side to the game that the Jaguars are still trying to adjust to.

No, players aren’t trying to temper excitement while looking at the early-season positive signs. They’re still trying to wrap their heads around them.

Everything was working well in Thursday’s 3-0 (25-23, 25-15, 25-20) win at Southwest Wake Athletic Conference opponent Middle Creek, and it should help lift the Jaguars’ confidence.

But it’s a gradual process. The Jags (6-5, 3-2) were 3-16 last year and 3-17 the year before.

“Every game we tried to go into last year we went in like, ‘Oh, they’re really good, we’re probably not going to win.’ And this year we’re going in like, ‘Maybe we can,’” Athens Drive junior Kendall Yount said. “We’re trying to think as positive as we can instead of killing oursevles before the game.”

With one senior on last year’s team, steps were taken in the offseason to get the Jags’ mindset to turn the corner.

“It was rough coming off last year and the year before. But me and my co-captain (Kayla Madia) worked hard over the summer, and we’re still working hard to keep everyone excited and pumped for the games,” senior Rachel Kinsey said.

Kinsey, one of the league’s two two-time all-conference selections, had 14 kills and two blocks in the match. The middle blocker credited the passes she received from junior Sydney Yount and junior Sarah Johnson.

“Our back row passing was on point, our setting was on point. It was just easy for me to read the block and hit around it,” Kinsey said.

Kendall Yount added nine kills despite being one of the conference’s smaller outside hitters.

“Instead of trying to hit around or over a block, because I’m incapable of getting that high, I have to try to hit into the block and that’s my main goal when I’m going up to hit,” Yount said.

Although Kinsey is one of few players who would remember it, Athens Drive was 16-9 in 2010.

“Our main goal this year was just to build the girls’ confidence,” said Jaguars coach Jen Reeder.

With a 3-2 start in conference play – and the fact the team has not been shut out in those two losses – there’s a chance for even more.

Middle Creek (6-7) was in its first game without outside hitter Katie McCullough, who earlier this year was MVP of the Heritage Invitational, due to a stress fracture in her foot.

Without her, the Mustangs had no one player in double-digit kills. Sophomore Sydney Sozio (two blocks and two aces), freshman Emily Durham (two aces), sophomore Rachael Smith and junior Sam Smith (four kills) all had six or fewer kills, as did senior Katie McDonald (three blocks).

“The dynamic on this team has been different in the past. We’re still trying to get over playing as a team, meshing as a team. We’ve turned that corner a few times this year, but we go back to it,” said first-year coach Danielle Martzolf. “I still have very high hopes in conference play.”

Blake: 919-460-2606; Twitter: @JMBpreps

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