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August 14, 2012 1:22:26 PM
Mary Douglass Kerby didn't think Harli Sesser was serious.
It's small talk, she thought. Why else would Sesser be talking and talking to her about volleyball?
But Douglass had been friends with Sesser since elementary school, so instead of tuning her out, she listened and then decided to watch Sesser and the Heritage Academy volleyball team in some of the matches in their inaugural season last year.
Kerby liked what she saw, so she decided to try out for the sport. After all, she already played basketball at the school and was on the track and field team, so the cross training might help her for those seasons.
For a player in her first season, Kerby has picked up the sport quite nicely. Paired with Sesser, Kerby fueled the Heritage Academy volleyball team to a 3-0 victory against Columbus on Monday night.
"They had open gym in March so I decided to try it," Kerby said. "Harli talked me into it."
Kerby, a junior, has discovered volleyball isn't like any other sport. There is the quick-twitch movements of basketball, but you also have to be on the watch for blistering serves just waiting to "pancake" you, or hit you in the face. Then there are those pesky hitters who tend to whale away at the ball and leave welts on your arms when you try to "dig" them, or keep the ball from hitting the floor.
Those terms are second nature to Kerby now, though. She showed Monday an uncanny knack for attacking the net and reacting to free balls with either hand. She credits the leadership of co-coaches Liz Byrne and Liz Fields, who played Division I volleyball at San Jose State and the University of Alabama, for helping her pick up the sport so quickly.
"She is dynamic," Byrne said. "She wants the ball. She wants to be involved in the play, and she can because she is so fast and she can get them."
Said Fields, "She is a sponge. She soaks up information."
Sesser is the same way, just a little older. While Kerby would be considered an outside hitter in a conventional lineup, Sesser would be a middle blocker, but both players see time in all of the rotation and have grown in areas like passing and digging, skills that hitters sometimes aren't proficient in.
Sesser, a sophomore, has been playing volleyball since seventh grade. She also plays club volleyball with coach Tina Seals and the Mississippi Juniors and takes lessons from Seals.
She couldn't help but smile Monday when Fields related to her the kind words of a fan who encouraged Sesser to continue playing because it might result in her getting a scholarship to play the sport in college.
"It is definitely the best feeling ever because I definitely want that," Sesser said.
Sesser said she has worked on her jumping ability and feels that she is a stronger player and that the team has made significant strides in its second season.
"We really want it," Sesser said. "They see how much they can do when they play as a team."
That's what Byrne and Fields want to hear as they try to grow the program. The victory helped the team move to 2-1 on the season, and showed it has made strides since 2011. Led by Sesser, the serving was stronger, and the all-around defense was improved, too. Offense, which usually is the last thing to younger players to pick up, also showed flashes. Both coaches feel all of the players have made substantial advances, and praised Kerby and Sesser for leading the way.
"Harli has improved tremendously," Fields said. "The ability was always there. She did play travel ball and played almost every weekend. She has more confidence because she knows she can crush the ball."
For Kerby, the best thing is that she is a part of a team that is starting to jell. Looking back, she is happy she perked up her ears and listed when Sesser started talking about volleyball.
"She kept asking me, so I guess she was serious," Kerby said. "I have learned a lot."
n In other action Monday, Caledonia beat Amory 3-0 (25-2, 25-10, 25-15). Morgan Smith had six aces, two kills, and nine assists, Kacy Lovett had four aces and a kill, Elisha Collins had three aces, four kills, five assists, and a block, Jensen Reed had eight aces, Sarah Freeman had six aces, a kill, and Cara Hopper had two aces, four kills, and a block.
The contents of this article have been modified since its original posting.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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