October 10, 2012 10:44:57 PM
Adam Minichino - firstname.lastname@example.org
CALEDONIA -- The Caledonia High School volleyball team is ready.
Sarah Freeman would have had her doubts if you would have asked her at the start of the season if the Lady Confederates would have reached this point.
As one of only two seniors on an inexperienced team, Freeman had concerns about the ability of younger players to contribute and the time it would take for the Lady Confederates to come together.
Despite its share of ups and downs, Caledonia won its district to earn a bye in the first round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class I playoffs. At 5 tonight, Caledonia (22-4) will play host to Lafayette in the second round.
Caledonia has won five more matches than it did last season when it lost to Lewisburg in the second round of the Class I playoffs. Lafayette eliminated Caledonia in 2010 and 2009. This season, Freeman feels Caledonia is ready to take the next step.
"I feel we have had a really great season," Freeman said. "We have come together as a team and bonded."
Caledonia may have to attempt to push on without senior Cara Hopper. The senior broke the fifth metatarsal in her right foot and limped into the Caledonia High gym on Wednesday with a boot on her foot. Once inside, Hopper had her foot taped and said she would practice to determine if she would be able to play today.
Caledonia High coach Samantha Brooks said it would be disappointing if her team had to play without Hopper, its other senior. If that's the case, though, she said younger players, who emerged during the regular season, would again have to play bigger roles to keep the season alive. Like Freeman, she believes the team is capable of answering that call.
"We will have to show up and play the best we have ever played on a consistent level without the ups and the downs," Brooks said. "We will have to keep the momentum.
"I want them to believe in themselves as much as I believe in them. They can absolutely win (tonight). They're prepared for it."
Brooks has that confidence because she feels the Lady Confederates have been more consistent the last part of the regular season. She credited Columbus for testing Caledonia in a 3-0 victory, and she hopes her kids respond to the challenge today like they did in that match. To do that, Brooks said leaders like Freeman and Hopper, even if she doesn't play, will have to continue to provide the example everyone has to follow.
"We have a lot of leadership with our older girls," Brooks said. "Our younger ones are very positive and are willing to learn and they don't take what the upperclassmen say and turn it into, 'They're telling us what to do,' They are taking it as a learning experience, and I am really proud of them for that."
Hopper felt the team had the potential to play like it has. She hopes she gets a chance to be a part of the team that can advance past the second round.
"I just want everybody to want it as bad as I want it because it is my last year," Hopper said.
Said Freeman, "The younger girls are going to have to step it up (if Hopper isn't able to play) and want to play and want the ball and want to hit the floor and want to hit. They're going to have to want to play and to be aggressive.
"It is in your head. You have to be confident in yourself that you can pass the ball, that you hit, you can serve, that you can do anything that you need to do -- that you can hit the floor. It might burn, but you can hit the floor and you're going to be OK. You have to know in your heart and in your head that you can do.
"When we come together as a team and want it and everybody plays 100 percent, I think we can play with anybody."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.