By Zack Huffman
The gym at Lovejoy High School was packed. Girls were all over the floor bumping volleyballs back and forth, while other scrambled to set up two large nets in order to cut the floor in half.
In a county where diminished enrollments have made it difficult for varsity teams to boast rosters that rival fellow classification teams in other counties, Lovejoy has been able to draw a wide field of competitors to fill the volleyball roster.
Last season the Lovejoy Lady Wildcats made history on the volleyball court by earning the school's first-ever region championship.
This year, the Lady Wildcats are back, with a little bit of old and a little bit of new.
While there are players who returned from last season with the knowledge that they can be competitive, there is no shortage of youth on the team. They are joined by new head coach Nicole Bonner and new assistant coach Kenneth Peoples.
"We're still young this year," said Bonner. "We have a lot of tenth graders, but at the same time, we have a lot of tenth graders where volleyball is their main sport. They pretty much play all year round."
Bonner came to Lovejoy this year, after being transferred from Morrow Middle School. With her experience coaching volleyball at both a middle school and college level, she was just what Lovejoy was looking for to replace former coach Leslie Fant, who left the school to build the new volleyball program at Charles Drew High School.
"I feel that brings pressure on me as a new coach. That means I have to step up and take us a little bit further than the region," said Bonner. "Most of them played club ball this summer, so they have improved tremendously. I think I was left in a real good situation."
The sole source for senior leadership on the team will come from lone twelfth-grader Bria Joyner-Williams.
"She's going to step up as our hitter," said Bonner. "She will probably lead us on the court."
According to Joyner-Williams the adjustment to having a new coach has not been a difficult task for the team.
"She gets along with everybody," she said about Bonner.
After having spent last season as a key contributor to the Lady Wildcats, Joyner-Williams is ready to bring her leadership back to the volleyball court.
"I felt like I was a leader last year. I'm going to go in same as last year with a winning attitude to be a positive role model to the younger girls," said Joyner-Williams. "They're strong, they're really competitive and they work well as a team."
According to Bonner, junior Chelsea Hyche and sophomore Altavia Lower will join Joyner-Williams as key members of the team in the setter and digger positions, respectively.
"Those are three young ladies that are definitely going to be an impact," said Bonner.