By Rory Sharrock
For some athletes, the transition from playing on the high school level to competing for college championships is a maturation process that usually comes to fruition as a junior or senior.
Then there's former Jonesboro graduate LaToya Jackson, who in just her sophomore season, is looking to capture her second straight Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) volleyball title with the Albany State Lady Rams.
Today, the defensive specialist walks on the court hoping to move one step closer to that mark at the SIAC Volleyball Tournament, which takes place on the campus of Kentucky State University in Frankfort, Ky.
With a conference tournament win, Albany State clinches a spot in the NCAA Division II Volleyball Tournament.
"We're just looking forward to going in there and playing everybody we know. In conference tournament, everybody is going to bring a new game. We're just trying to keep are heads on straight and take one game at a time," said Jackson.
Albany State rolled over the opposition this fall, going 27-3 and 10-0 the SIAC. The No. 1-seeded Lady Rams have a first-round bye and begin defense of their seven consecutive SIAC volleyball championships against the winner of Paine versus Lane College.
With age comes experience and Jackson's performance on the floor increased during her second lap around the track in 2008.
The intense atmosphere in practice, combined with facing off against heavy competition on the opposite side of the net, made her step her game up and the evidence is smeared all over the stat sheet.
"Last year was new and I wasn't starting. This year I have a drive because I know how hard teams go at it. I'm just prepared for anything. I've been working on my agility and reading the ball. I'm ready and very motivated right now," she said.
Jackson is a fierce competitor on the back row who ranks third on the team in digs with 134 (2.13 digs per game).
While these numbers are nice, her focus is on improving with each outing and the coaching staff has noticed her commitment to being the best when she's on the floor.
"She's a true defensive player. I don't know how many digs she's had this year. She's a big part of our success. She's an outstanding volleyball player and we're really happy to have her on the team," said Albany State head volleyball coach Robert Skinner.
Winning is something that she's been accustomed to ever since her old stomping grounds at Jonesboro High School.
During her senior year in the fall of 2006, her only time with the Lady Cards, she helped the team finish 43-10 and 9-0 in Region 4-AAAA. Jonesboro advanced deep in the playoffs before losing to Woodward 3-1.
It's also apparent that Jackson has become spoiled with success as her two-year collegiate record now stands at 48-18 and she's on the brink of adding another paragraph to Albany State's media guide.
In addition to playing in the conference tournament, Jackson is busy preparing for finals in December.
Jackson is currently enrolled as a biology major with future plans of going to graduate school to study optometry.
Although she's miles away from home, Jonesboro High is close to her heart and she's pulling hard for her alma mater in Friday's playoff game at Hephzibah.
"I don't think they made it since 2002 when Harry Douglas (Atlanta Falcons rookie) was there. It's been a long time and I'm really excited for them. I hope they go out there, play hard, do their best and win," she said.