Photo by Derrick Mahone
Jonesboro volleyball players Briana Benson (left) and Alexcia Cross await a serve from a teammate Tuesday as the Lady Cardinals defeated Morrow in their first home match of the season.
Even with 90 percent of his offense having graduated, Jonesboro volleyball coach Dan Maehlman refuses to use the rebuilding word when talking about his team.
He won’t go as far to say the Lady Cardinals are reloading, but there is no question that they still remain one of the teams to beat in Area 4-AAAA North and the county.
“Honestly, this team has put in a lot of work,” Maehlman said. “We are getting girls that are learning to step up and play in clutch situations. We have some girls that must play bigger roles in the scoring.”
Maehlman is counting on seniors Jasmine Mitchell and Alexcia Cross to become scorers this season. Junior Briana Benson is the only other returning starter from a team that reached the Class AAAA Elite Eight last season and finished No. 10 in the final PrepCountry.com/GACA Coaches poll.
Gone are Jennifer Evans and Kayla Dowdell, who both signed college scholarships last spring.
To prep his team for the area and state tournaments, Maehlman has once again put together a challenging schedule that includes matches against Landmark Christian, Pace and Holy Innocents’. Last week, the Lady Cardinals lost a close match to Holy Innocents’, which is ranked No. 2 in the state in Class AA/A.
“The seniors on the team have to step up a lot this year,” Mitchell said. “We just need to improve on our communication on the court. Our main goal is to go further than we did last season. Everybody is beginning to understand their role.”
Maehlman admits that this season’s team is not a complete version of what he wants to see, but insists they will be by the team the regular season ends.
“I never want to use the words ‘rebuilding year,’ ” Maehlman said. “If I do, it is time for me to quit. We have worked too hard to build something over here to rebuild. We will be competitive. We might not be on the same level as the previous teams now, but by the time the season ends, we should be on all cylinders.”
He said the summer is where he does his molding.
“We work hard and rebuild during the summer,” Maehlman said. “These girls put in the work during that time.”
The coach says the biggest difference between his team and some of the traditionally ranked schools is that they have players who play year-round club ball. Maehlman, who is also the school’s boys basketball and baseball coach, shares his athletes with other sports.
He has seven current players who are on the varsity basketball team. In a 25-19, 25-18 loss to Holy Innocents’, Maehlman said the biggest difference was mistakes. His team committed some while Holy Innocents’ was near flawless.
“Their girls are all volleyball players year-round,” he said. “It is during that time that they get rid of their mistakes. The coaching staff doesn’t have to worry about those things. They come in game ready.”
The players admit that they have a ways to go before the postseason starts in October. Next weekend, the Lady Cardinals will travel to Brunswick to play in the Play at the Beach tournament hosted by Glynn Academy. On Sept. 17, Jonesboro will defend its county championship at the Clayton County Tournament, which will be hosted by Forest Park.
“We are trying to get where we need to be,” Benson said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. I think we will reach our goal. We are going to be OK.”