July 17, 2012 11:15:04 PM
The Heritage Academy volleyball program is growing in multiple ways.
Not only have the Lady Patriots gained confidence from their inaugural season in 2011, but second -year coach Liz Fields also is more comfortable translating what she knows about the sport to her inexperienced players.
The key for Fields, a former standout at the University of Alabama, and for Heritage Academy will be to build on everything they learned in that initial season and take a step forward.
"I am really excited after all of our hard work in the spring and in the summer to see where we will be in the fall," Fields said. "I am very, very excited. I think we're going to be really surprised with what we have learned."
Heritage Academy made history last season when it defeated Columbus 3-1 (25-14, 22-25, 25-16, 25-17) last August for its first victory. Fields said then she was "speechless" because her players had come so far so quickly.
Returning players Anna Kilarski and Allie Allsup said Tuesday after practice at the Mississippi University for Women's Stark Recreation Center that the Lady Patriots were excited about this season because they feel the team has come together even more because it knows it can do even more.
"It is a big difference because we know more about it and we are a little bit more experienced," Kilarski said.
Said Allsup, "Last year, I was a little more nervous and cautious about things. But this year we all have a lot more experience and we are ready for this season to start."
Fields had 13 players at practice Tuesday. She said a few other players weren't able to attend, but she feels confident about the size of the squad and its potential for even more growth. Fields said she had 25-30 players come out for spring tryouts.
"I see a confidence with the girls. It is almost kind of like a swagger with a couple of them," Fields said. "They are not overly confident, but it is like, 'I know how to do this and I can guide you.' They're helping with the younger girls. It is only going to get better from here."
Like last year, Heritage Academy will play a schedule filled with matches predominantly against schools from this area, including New Hope High, which held its second tryout Tuesday for its first season with a team.
Heritage Academy is scheduled to open the season at 5 p.m. Aug. 9 at Starkville High. Since not many Mississippi Association of Independent Schools have volleyball, Heritage Academy will continue to play schools in the Mississippi High School Activities Association.
Fields' focus remains on the fundamentals and learning the game. She feels it will take time and game experience for the Lady Patriots to develop a greater understanding of footwork, positioning, touch -- some of the finer elements veteran players take for granted.
Fields also credited Jeanne Sumrall, who works with Tina Seals' Mississippi Juniors Volleyball Club, for helping her players increase their knowledge of the game. She said Sumrall worked with the team in a camp that helped players learn different positions. She also said the team will leave Thursday to participate in a volleyball camp at Alabama. Fields hopes her players learn a lot of things, but even if they don't, she knows the experience will help build team chemistry and will offer plenty of teaching examples the players can take with them and practice with the team or on their own.
In addition to juggling a new program, Fields is balancing life as a new mother. She had her new daughter, Presley, with her Tuesday, and she anticipates her hands will be a little busier in the fall when the team starts practicing every day. Like her players, though, Fields feels she has matured as a coach and is more able to convey and to teach what she learned as a college player.
"It was hard last year going from the collegiate level to teaching volleyball to girls who had never touched a volleyball," Fields said. "I was like, 'Where do I start?' Having Jeanne Sumrall come in and work with our girls, I am able to watch her coach and I am able to learn from her."
Learning will be the key word for Fields and the Lady Patriots because the speed with which they pick things up likely will translate to more wins, which is something that excites everyone.
"We want to win more," Kilarski said. "We trust each other more."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.