Heritage Academy junior Allison Yingst, left, and senior Gigi Fields, right, will be two of the seven varsity players first-year head volleyball coach Kelly Combs will look to this season. Photo by: Adam Minichino/Dispatch Staff
August 7, 2018 11:33:22 PM
Monday marked the start of Kelly Combs' journey down a familiar road.
Years ago, Kelly was a young volleyball player getting her start in a league run by her mother, Nancy, in Missouri. In addition to her duties as coach in the youth league, Nancy worked as a biology teacher at Arcadia Valley High School, which is about an hour-and-a-half south of St. Louis. She also served as the school's volleyball coach.
After two days of practice as the new volleyball coach at Heritage Academy, Kelly Combs has a better idea of the things her mother worked on with up-and-coming volleyball players and a building program.
"We're almost walking the same path," Combs said. "We have a lot of similarities there."
Tuesday marked the second day of practice for the Heritage Academy volleyball program, which was started by Liz Fields and Liz Byrne in 2011. The program reached a pinnacle last season when it won the consolation bracket of the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) State tournament.
This season, Combs, who is a first-time head coach, hopes to help her seven varsity players build on that showing and to keep a deep group of junior varsity players interested in and learning about the sport.
Combs said she has asked her mother for advice about how to encourage young players in their first steps in the sport.
"She said the best piece of advice she could give me was to always end practice on a positive note," said Combs, who started playing volleyball when she was 8 or 9 years old. "Even if the practice wasn't 100 percent or it didn't go great, always end being positive so that way they're excited to come back the next day. I thought that was a great piece of advice from her."
Combs moved to Columbus in September with her husband, who is a student pilot at Columbus Air Force Base. She is working as an anatomy/physiology teacher at Heritage Academy.
Combs played outside hitter at Farmington High School in Missouri, which is about an hour south of St. Louis. She played volleyball at Central Methodist University, an NAIA school in Fayette, Missouri.
Combs said the players are still figuring her out and she is still getting to know them. She said she plans to stress the fundamentals to keep all of the players interested and growing with the program.
"It is easy to build (once you know the fundamentals), and the more you get, the more you want to play," Combs said. "Once you get that base you can build up from there. That always motivated me as a player. If I was better, I wanted to play more."
Allison Yingst, a junior, and Gigi Fields, a senior, are two of the most experienced players in the program. Yingst started playing when she was in the sixth grade, while Fields started when she was in the seventh grade. Both players feel the program grew throughout the 2017 season, but they admitted they were frustrated they didn't advance to the championship bracket of the MAIS State tournament. The finish marked back-to-back years Heritage Academy won the consolation bracket.
"We have a lot of potential," Yingst said. "We're finally old enough. We should be good if it all comes together, and we really like coach Combs."
Yingst and Fields said everyone is getting back into the swing of things after a busy summer. She said the presence of a deep group of junior varsity players bodes well for the future.
"We have definitely matured," Yingst said. "We have learned not to get frustrated and focus play by play."
Emily Howard, Georgiana Brown, Lores Sharp, Rayne Phillips, and Lydia Dyson round out the varsity roster. Combs said there are 12-13 JV players.
Yingst said she felt like there was no one underneath her and the varsity players a few years ago. Now, though, she feels there is a whole team that can go on when the varsity players leave the school.
"We have to set an example for (the younger players) because if we slack off during practice they're going to think they can do the same thing," Fields said, "so we always have to give 100 percent all of the time."
Heritage Academy will play all of its matches on the road this season. Its opener will be next Tuesday at Caledonia High.
"It has been a really big change," said Combs, who taught at a community college but is in her first job as a teacher at the high school level. "It has been really great. I only see positives right now."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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