Caledonia High School senior Bailie Cross makes a pass against New Hope in a Dig Pink match last week at Caledonia High. The match was designed to raise money for research about breast cancer. Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch Staff
October 19, 2017 10:25:20 AM
CALEDONIA -- Samantha Brooks has to think for a few seconds.
Now in her 11th season as coach of the Caledonia High School volleyball team, Brooks needs a moment to reflect back on her first season as coach at the school. Brooks said earlier this year she had "some of the best times of my life" when she played volleyball at the Mississippi University for Women from 1996-2000, so she understands the role coaches can play in creating lifelong memories and opportunities for their student-athletes.
Brooks' leadership usually has helped Caledonia create some of those memories in the postseason.
At 6:30 tonight, Caledonia will try to extend its season when it goes on the road to play New Albany in the first round of the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Class II State tournament.
Brooks isn't sure how many years in a row Caledonia has advanced to the playoffs, but she said the program has played in the postseason "six or seven" times in her tenure. Last season, Caledonia (27-6) saw one of its best seasons in recent memory end with a 3-1 loss to Lewisburg in the second round of the Class II playoffs.
This season, Brooks feels team chemistry has played a big role in the Lady Confederates' success. She also likes to think the fact she has remained coach for so long has helped establish continuity for the players and the parents. As a result, things have run more smoothly.
That doesn't mean Brooks hasn't changed, or that she has been afraid of change.
In fact, Brooks said she has changed about 50 percent of what she did and how she did it in her first season to the 2017 campaign. While Brooks acknowledged not much -- maybe only 5 percent -- has changed from last season, she said is always learning and open to change if it helps the players improve.
"Every year is different," Brooks said. "The things that work, we keep. The things that don't work, we change. I steal ideas from other coaches and network with other coaches in the district and out of the district.
"I have learned a lot and grown so much since the first day I stepped on the court."
Brooks has a unique perspective as a teacher and as a parent. Her daughter, sophomore Tori Brooks, is a key member of the team. She said working in multiple roles has allowed her to see so many things and to put her in different situations. Brooks said all of those experiences have helped her become a better coach.
Senior Bailie Cross credits Brooks for building players' confidence and preparing them for every situation. She said the Lady Confederates have overcome their lack of height to have a 25-10 season and a 7-1 mark in Class II, Region 4. Caledonia tied Lafayette for first place in the region but lost on a tiebreaker.
"She always helps us and motivates us," Cross said. "This past season has been the closest we have ever been, so that really helps us. Even when we weren't the closest-knit team, we still didn't have much drama, we still worked together on the court. If we had issues off the court, we learned to leave it off the court."
Brooks always has been able to relate well to her players, which explains why she was comfortable "dabbing" after hearing Cross' comment. A dab is a dance move in which a person drops the head into the bent crook of a slanted arm, often while raising the opposite arm in a parallel direction but out straight.
Brooks credits the parents and players for supporting her work. She said the players have gone the "extra mile" and embraced a "super scrappy" mentality, according to Cross, which has helped to compensate for an up-and-down season on offense. That bodes well for the future, especially with so many players coming back.
Still, Brooks hopes the "scrappy" style of play continues because she said it isn't something that can be coaches. Her goal is to keep building on that mind-set.
"They know it," Brooks said. "(Scrappy play) is something we know and is just us. We're shorter, so we tend to let our defense carry us a lot and try to put the ball away the best we can."
Tori Brooks, who at 5-foot-9 is one of the tallest players on the squad, is in her second season with the varsity team. She said her mother is "fair" to everyone and does her best to prepare the players for nearly every situation.
"When I was in middle school, it didn't seem like the high-schoolers didn't players bond with the younger people, or even JV," Tori Brooks said. "Now all of us are really close. Everybody is part of the team. Everybody talks to everybody. She done a good job of helping us all come together."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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