Last year Rachel Christian played on the Robert E. Lee jayvee volleyball team, but this year the sophomore is hoping to get the call to the big leagues, so to speak.
Monday was the first of two days of volleyball tryouts in the Paul Hatcher Gym. By Tuesday evening at 6:30, Christian and the other 28 players trying to make the team will know their fate. Asked to look ahead to her mindset Tuesday evening, Christian was taking things in stride.
“At that point it’s kind of out of our hands,” said Christian. “We can’t do anything else. We’ve done everything that we can.”
Lee High coach Jan Williams is not looking forward to Tuesday. She has 29 players hoping to be part of the program, but only 24 will make the cut – 12 being named to the varsity team and 12 to jayvee. The remaining five will have to decide if it’s worth the hard work over the next 12 months to make an attempt to come out next season for the team.
“That’s the worst part of coaching,” said Williams. “It’s absolutely the worst day of my year and I’m not kidding. I crush girls’ dreams, but you’ve got to have on your team people you can throw in during a game.”
For the first hour of Monday’s practice, the players didn’t touch a volleyball. It was all agility skills, something the players don’t especially care for, but something they know needs to be done.
“We did a lot of conditioning to show that we can push through whatever the game gives us,” said Lee High freshman Nellie Garrison, another player who was on the jayvee team last year and is hoping to make the 12-woman varsity roster this season.
Lee assistant coach Roger Davis loved the enthusiasm he saw on the court Monday. The words on the back of his shirt described exactly what he was looking for – quicker, better, faster, stronger. He said those are the attributes that make a successful volleyball player.
“Volleyball is an explosive sport,” said Davis. “It’s not an endurance sport like cross-country running would be. It’s more of an explosive sport and you have to be able to do things quickly with a lot of power.”
Williams said that first part of day one is the toughest. She’s lost a lot of players in the first 15 minutes of practice in past years, but on Monday no one quit on her. That’s a positive sign for this season, she said.
Former Lee star Jasmine Johnson, who now plays volleyball at Eastern Mennonite University, and former Waynesboro star Logan Graves, now playing at Roanoke College, were both helping Williams Monday. They were taking players off to the side for much of the practice, measuring their vertical jump. They were also tending to players who came off the court not feeling well. And they were motivating the players.
“Yeah, we’ve been there before,” said Graves, who said as a freshman at Waynesboro she wasn’t sure if she’d make the varsity and was relieved when she found out she did.
Johnson remembers waiting to hear that news also.
“It’s definitely nerve-wracking at first,” said Johnson. “You’re up against 30 other girls who may get on the team. There’s a lot going through your mind.”
Johnson said the feelings are pretty mutual for everyone come the end of practice Tuesday as they wait to hear the verdict – “All of us wanted to throw up.”
Lee sophomore Anna Kopia said she’s working her hardest to make the varsity after playing jayvee last year, but she wasn’t sure how many spots were available. If it doesn’t work out, she’ll try not to take it too hard.
“If you make jayvee you have to make the best out of the situation,” said Kopia.
Williams was looking closely at her players Monday. She wanted to see players who were willing to hustle on the court. Willing to go the extra mile. Encourage teammates. And most importantly, be willing to take the coach’s advice. If she tells a player to change her footwork on a serve, walks away and returns only to see the player hasn’t made that change, that’s a red flag.
“Experience shows me that’s going to carry on for years,” said Williams. “It’s little things like that you look for.”
Williams is excited for this season. She said the individual workouts in the summer were the best she’s ever had, with last year’s varsity players attending almost every day. If that work ethic continues, life will be good for the coach this season.
Said Williams, “I just want them to be this way at the end of the season.”