By Rory Sharrock
Every single time Latoya Jackson puts on her volleyball uniform, she expects nothing less than to win.
More times than not, by the time the dust has settled, she's exceeded her high expectations.
In just two playoff-filled seasons with the Jonesboro Lady Cardinals from 2005-06, Jackson went 76-14 and 17-0 in region play with consecutive league titles.
After dominating the Southern Crescent, she earned a scholarship to attend Albany State University, where she brought her talents to an already established group of championship-tested players. Although her zip code and school colors changed, the daily goal of expecting and achieving victory has remained in tact.
Last year as a freshman, Jackson and the Lady Rams went 21-15, won their seventh-straight Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) championship and clinched a berth in the NCAA Division II Volleyball Tournament.
This season, with a loaded roster full of returning players, Albany State is once again predicted to win the SIAC and return to the NCAA Tournament in November.
"We have to stay focused. We have a lot of teams gunning for us. Fort Valley is gunning for us, Clark Atlanta is gunning for us and Benedict is gunning for us this year. We have to stay focused and maintain during the season," said Jackson.
Jackson's devotion of keeping her eyes glued on the ultimate prize is further evidence of her continued growth from a soft spoken freshman in 2007, to a confident super sophomore in 2008.
"Last year was a learning experience because it was my first year on the floor. I learned a lot from my teammates. I watched them, took that with me and I trained over the summer. Now, I have younger people under me and I'm trying to help them out. I want to be a big man on the court and step up my game," she said.
Albany State took the floor for its first serve of the season on Sept. 2 and took care of business versus Savannah State, winning 3-0. However, after beating the Lady Tigers in the opener, Jackson was presented with a new twist and perhaps the most memorable moment of her volleyball career.
Jonesboro has sent a flock of former Lady Cardinals away to college on a scholarship and a group of them held a mini reunion on the court with bragging rights on the line.
On Sept. 3, Jackson was joined by fellow Jonesboro graduates and current Brewton Parker College players Bobbi Boyer, Jeune Hypolite, Latrice Johnson and Sheena Brown when the Lady Rams faced the Lady Barons in Mt. Vernon. The final outcome was bitter-sweet for Jackson as Albany State clinched a 3-1 road win.
This past weekend, these former Lady Cards met once again at the Paine College Invitational in Augusta with Albany State taking it 3-1 (25-22, 25-23, 17-25, 25-15).
"I had mixed feelings because when one of them messed up, it was good because it was our point. I told my teammates what they do to help us out and give us the upper hand. Then you feel bad because I'm cheering and that's my friend who messed up. But at the end of the day everything was cool and we're still friends," she said.
Albany State wrapped up the Paine College Invitational with an unblemished mark, including wins over Savannah State (3-1), Livingstone College (3-0), Brewton Parker 3-2) and host team Paine College (3-0) in the championship game.
Jackson makes a triumphant return to the metro area when Albany State visits Clark Atlanta on Thursday, Oct. 9 at 6 p.m.
Currently, Jonesboro is a season of transition with many former athletes playing on the collegiate level. The Lady Cards are 9-7 and in second place in Region 4-AAAA at 1-0. Today at 5 p.m., Jonesboro welcomes region foes North Clayton and Ola to their gym for its 2008 home opener.