October 9, 2013 10:13:14 PM
Laura Lee Holman didn't know what to expect when she received the phone call Wednesday morning.
When she hung up, she couldn't believe her New Hope High School volleyball team was a champion. Canton High's decision to forfeit its two matches against New Hope scheduled for today in Columbus helped the Lady Trojans (12-3) wrap up the Class II, Region 2, District 6 title. In only its second year of existence, the New Hope volleyball team will play host to an opponent to be determined Oct. 26. It will need to win two matches to advance to the state title match at 1 p.m. Nov. 2 at Mississippi College in Clinton.
"I was a little disappointed they forfeited because I think we needed to play, but I was excited about it," Holman said. "I waited until practice to kind of let the girls know."
Only Holman, who also is the school's girls basketball coach, didn't come right out and tell her players the team was district champion. Instead, she played a practical joke on them by saying she had misread the tiebreaker rules and Germantown was the district champion. Seeing the news wasn't going over well with her players, she changed her story and told her players the truth.
"I am so proud of them the way they stepped up and beat Germantown," Holman said. "I think I would have been excited about that, but to beat them in three sets was beautiful. Everybody came to play, and I knew it was going to take everybody to beat Germantown."
New Hope gained the title over Germantown by virtue of its 3-0 victory earlier this season. Germantown beat New Hope 3-1, so the Lady Trojans will get to play the program's first playoff match at home.
Senior setter Ashley Martian said the players worked hard to improve following a 2-7 finish in the inaugural season. She
"It is pretty great," Martian said. "We are such a new team that being district champs is a big upset to a lot of teams, especially Germantown. Going to playoffs for the first time is amazing."
Martian said the Lady Trojans have watched a lot of film and changed their rotations to limit the number of positions individuals have to play. She said the new approach has solidified the defense and enables the team to cover more ground defensively.
"We can dig balls that we never thought we could," Martian said. "We spend every day working on it, and that has helped so much."
Martian is part of a returning group that has learned from the senior Silvia Sartori, an exchange student from Serbia. Sartori's brother was an exchange student at Hamilton High in Monroe County several years ago. She initially was slated to be an exchange student at a school in the Hattiesburg area, but she said that move fell through and she wound up in Lowndes County.
Sartori, who is 6-foot-1, started playing volleyball when she was 7 years old and plays the sport at the club level in her home country. She admits it was an adjustment coming to a state in which volleyball is still growing and a school where the sport is so new. But she credits her teammates for making her feel at home.
"I have a good relationship with all of my teammates, which is why I think we have grown as a team," Sartori said. "We play every match as a team. Hard work every day has helped the team accomplish a district championship."
Sartori said her plan was to try to get an opportunity to play volleyball in college at a school in the United States. Today, she will visit Mississippi College in Clinton. That school is one that has expressed an interest in adding Sartori to its volleyball program. Sartori said she would like to find a college in Mississippi or Alabama to play volleyball.
"I didn't know what it was going to be like," Sartori said of high school volleyball in Mississippi. "Our coach has always supported us, which is why we have accomplished what we accomplished."
Martian said Sartori helped bring the change in rotations to life. She said she also has given advice and pointers to several players on the team to help their games.
"We have all tried to step up our games (to match Sartori's play)," Martian said.
Seniors Mercedes Mattix and Alaina Nickoles have anchored the middle hitter position, while Leigh Atkins has provided an attacking option at outside hitter. Junior Abby Wilson and sophomores Darion Bradley and Madison Thrasher have added solid defensive play to go with the setting of junior Kayla Smith.
Put it all together and you get a title recipe with all of the right ingredients.
"We really weren't firing on all cylinders (earlier in the season)," Holman said. "I really think it was at Ridgeland when we won our first district game that it was there. I don't know why if it was a timing thing for them to get used to the adjustments. Ever since then we really have just taken off. Everything has seemed to clicked and people have stepped up. It is a confidence level. They are playing with a lot of confidence, and playing with a lot of confidence in each other. They know that if they can keep that ball up in the air somebody is going to come and help them out. I can't tell you how many plays where somebody has stepped up and dove or ran or kept the ball in play for us. Those are momentum-builders."
New Hope will close the regular season with matches Tuesday at Starkville and Thursday at home against West Lowndes.
Follow Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.