Photo by Brian Paglia / Jonesboro volleyball players Kelsey Arnold (11) and Michaelle Smith (20) enjoy a light moment during the Lady Cardinals match at Woodland on Tuesday.
JONESBORO — Dan Maehlman didn’t get to make this season’s Jonesboro volleyball schedule like he has every season before. Maehlman used to pack the Lady Cardinals’ non-area schedule with playoff-caliber competition to get them ready for the state tournament.
That hasn’t been the case this season. Jonesboro’s toughest competition is in area (4-AAAA) against Locust Grove, Riverdale and Woodland.
Except for this weekend.
If there was one non-area tournament on the schedule Maehlman wanted to save, it would be this weekend’s ‘Volleyball at the Beach’ tournament at Glynn Academy in Brunswick where the No. 8-ranked Lady Cardinals (13-3) get a flurry of games against playoff-level competition.
“It’s a playoff team every game,” Maehlman said.
But it also gives Maehlman and Jonesboro a mid-season opportunity to build more team chemistry, which is especially critical for a Lady Cardinals team still trying to fit several new pieces together.
Maehlman had a juggling act this season after graduating several key players from a year ago. Senior Briana Benson moved to outside hitter after being the Lady Cardinals’ setter the past three seasons. Sophomore middle hitter Michaelle Smith is playing the sport for the first time.
“With any team you have, it takes them awhile to kind of gel together,” Maehlman said.
That’s what this weekend is for. Maehlman said he takes his players’ cellphones away for the entire weekend. The time they spend on the beach, eating at restaurants and sitting in the stands between matches is technology-free.
Without distractions, the team’s only focus is on getting better and getting to know each other.
“The ones that don’t really communicate with each other are forced to,” Maehlman said. “Usually we come back and start to go in the right direction.”
Indeed, matches against the likes of Savannah Country Day (17-5), the No. 5-ranked team in Class A, provide the sort of challenge that gets tucked away until playoff time approaches.
“They’ve got a chance to be pretty good,” Maehlman said.
Woodland stayed undefeated with a thrilling 18-25, 26-24, 25-23 victory at Union Grove in a non-area match on Thursday.
The No. 4-ranked Lady Wolfpack (20-0, 4-0 Area 4-AAAA) also defeated Henry County, 25-6, 25-9.