By Rory Sharrock
Ask any serious athlete what do they do in the offseason and their quick to respond that they're busy training for the next season.
The extended break between games gives an individual added time to condition their bodies and prepare their minds to surpass their performance from the previous year.
Throughout this decade, the volleyball program at Jonesboro High School has been the toast of the town in the Southern Crescent.
During this time span, the school has made a habit of collecting region championship trophies and they've sent a flock of Lady Cardinal graduates away to college on athletic scholarships.
However, these women have maintained their status because of their academic and athletic commitments by constantly working hard to improve in both areas.
With the completion of the spring semester at their various colleges, several former Lady Cards have flown back to their nest to participate offseason workouts and practice on basic fundamentals inside familiar territory at Jonesboro High School.
Among this crop of players celebrating a volleyball homecoming at their old stomping grounds are Tasheena Brown, Shanicka Reddick, LaTreace Johnson, Jessica Hill and Latoya Jackson.
This 'Fab 5' meets for several hours, Monday through Friday, to run wind sprints, practice defensive alignments and engage in the highly-competitive game of 'Queen of the Court.' In this drill, players compete in teams for points and positioning on the queen's side of the net.
Although these workouts are tough, with no rest for the weary, each player strongly agrees these sessions instill confidence and will pay long-term dividends toward their future progress as collegiate student-athletes.
"It's really important to me. To be a good player, you have to work out. If you don't work hard, you won't get far in life," said Reddick, who just concluded her freshman year as a defensive specialist/libero at Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Fla.
"It's good to come back and work out with the old heads and coach (Dan Maehlman). When we come in, it's exciting for us to play together again."
The bond they all share began in high school and continued to thrive despite being separated by thousands of miles and their respective college campuses.
Throughout the past school year, they've remained in contact and encouraged each other as their season progressed.
While it was nice to hear a calming voice over the phone or read a funny e-mail, it's even better to unite in the same gym to participate in their favorite activity - volleyball.
"It's a year-long job. You have to work out the whole time and you don't stop. We go through preseason, the season and the offseason. We probably have a month to rest and that's just to make sure your stays healthy. We're a big family. Everybody plays and we love it. That's what joins us together because we love volleyball," said Johnson, who is a senior power hitter at Brewton-Parker College in Mount Vernon.
The summer training will have a positive outcome for all those involved, however, it holds a special meaning for Hill, who sat out the past season as a redshirt freshman at Mineral Area College in Park Hills, Mo.
"I'm playing with people in college, so it's helping bring my game up. I'm way out in Missouri, so coming back home is a big difference," said Hill.
As these women grind it out on the floor, standing tall like a proud father as he watches his former players grow is their former head coach, turned athletic director Maehlman.
Under his leadership, the school has thrived and he's put Jonesboro volleyball on the map as a perennial contender for the state crown.
"That explains our success at Jonesboro High School as far as the volleyball program. It has nothing to do with my coaching, it has to do with how the girls play and how dedicated they are," he said.
"They call me and ask me to open the gym. They come in and they'll stay all night long. When they come back in town, I'm not saying I'm the first person they call, but I'm one of the top two. It makes me feel like I've been influential in the kids lives and that's what coaching is all about."
As college volleyball players, these former Lady Cardinals have achieved some levels of individual or team success reminiscent to their days in Clayton County.
Jackson, who is a redshirt sophomore at Albany State University, helped lead the Lady Golden Rams to a seventh-straight Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) title in 2007 and an appearance in the NCAA Division II Volleyball Tournament.
Reddick stepped on the court at Bethune-Cookman as a walk-on player, but worked her way up to a scholarship after a stellar performance last season.
Brown and Johnson were two of the bright spots for a Brewton-Parker squad that finished 11-17.
Hill's teammates at Mineral Area College went 30-12 last year and should keep the same pace once she's eligible to play in the fall.