August 7, 2014 11:24:16 AM
Khris Carr, Shelby Adair, and Vicky Vo can't help but feel old.
No, their muscles don't ache from the rigors of another high school season. Those pains will come in a few months.
Instead, Carr, Adair, and Vo feel like grizzled veterans because they can look out at the Starkville High School gymnasium and recall countless volleyball matches they have played in their prep careers. The journey has been a little longer for Carr, who started playing with the Lady Yellow Jackets when she was in the seventh grade. Adair and Vo joined the program when they were eighth-graders.
Those formative years were crucial because coach Lauren Love also was new to the program. Love, a former volleyball player at the University of Tennessee from 1996-99, came to Starkville High to take her first job as a high school coach back when Carr was a seventh-grader. As Starkville prepares for its season opener Tuesday against Aberdeen, Love and her seniors have grown together and learned a lot about volleyball and each other.
"It makes me feel really proud that I have been able to be a part of these young ladies' lives for so long and to be a part of this program and to be a part of the Yellow Jacket community," Love said. "This was my first high school coaching job, and I wasn't sure what to expect, so I thought, 'Let's just get past this first year.' As the years passed, I enjoyed it, and I hope I can continue to be a part of it as long as we are around."
Love said Carr, who played last month in the Mississippi High School Activities Association All-Star game, Adair, and Vo all have matured on and off the court. Most importantly, she said those three and the rest of her players have learned to appreciate the mental aspect of the game and how they need to focus on the details to become better players. She has watched Vo mature as a setter as she prepares for her second year at that position. She also said Adair has become a jack of all trades as a utility player and Carr has emerged as a more vocal presence and a leader on a team that hopes to return to the playoffs this season.
"Khris has had the skills, and her skills definitely have improved," Love said. "When you are a standout athletically, people tend to look at you to lead, and her leadership skills have definitely grown. They have grown as she has grown. She is more vocal now and can leads the girls vocally with her play.
"I am happy for Vicki in that she loves the setting position. She is a huge contributor and a huge part of the team. As a setter, she has become a vocal leader of the team."
Vo admits she does feel old when she considers this could be her last season playing volleyball. Despite her "age," she feels she continues to learn something new about the sport every day. She said that knowledge sparked an interest in the position when she was first thrust into the role of playing setter on a team that didn't have one.
"(Coach Love) saw my capabilities," Vo said. "She basically threw me to the wolves and it just clicked for me. I guess it was the speed of the game and having all of my teammates relying on me to get that ball and to get them back up so they can kill it over the net."
Vo, who has played club volleyball with the Mississippi Juniors, started out as a defensive specialist. As she matured, Love moved her around the court in an attempt to find the right spot for her. While Vo has found a spot, Adair continues to play a variety of roles for the Lady Yellow Jackets. Once the tallest player on the court, Adair said she has adjusted to being a versatile player who can fill in at just about every spot on the front row. This season, she likely will see time as a middle blocker.
"(Coach Love) taught me how to play the game. She has taught me everything," Adair said. "I wouldn't be much of a volleyball player without coach Love.
"I think (playing so many positions) has taught me how to be flexible, not just on the court but in life, and having to adapt to your situation. I wouldn't trade it for anything. I like kind of being a utility player and knowing how to do a little bit of everything."
Carr likely will be Starkville's primary hitter. Carr has talked throughout her high school career about her aspirations to play volleyball in college. She hopes the time she has invested playing club volleyball in Mississippi and in Alabama will help her realize that goal. She knows the time she has spent growing and learning the game at the high school level has put her in position to take the next step.
"(Coach Love) has helped me with leadership and patience," Carr said. "The transition (to being a leader and being more vocal) hasn't always been smooth, but you learn. It has helped that I play club, and I have carried that on through club into the next high school season."
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Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.