Noell Stanton says her new found confidence has made all the difference in her development into a leader for Ola’s volleyball team. (Staff photo: Gabriel Stovall)
McDONOUGH —It wasn’t a mistake earlier in the summer when Ola volleyball coach Joe Caldwell said Noell Stanton was going to be a leader for this year’s squad.
It also wasn’t a slight to the seniors and juniors who dot the Mustangs roster either.
It’s just that the sophomore setter has shown enough ability and moxie as a freshman — and even through offseason and summer workouts — that she can’t be denied.
“She works so hard every single day,” Caldwell said. “She just has this intrinsic, ‘I-want-to-get-better’ mentality that she brings with her every time she steps out on the court. She’s trying a lot of stuff, and doing some new some things out there to show her confidence level has risen.”
If you ask Stanton, that is the single most important element of her game that was missing in times past. It’s been the difference between her just being another volleyball player, and evolving into perhaps the premier setter on her team.
And it allows her to be brutally honest about her game and herself — something she wasn’t always comfortable with.
“I used to have low self esteem and really get down on myself,” Stanton said. “In middle school, I had no clue what I was doing. My first year when I started here with coach Caldwell and the camps, it just improved me so much.”
The turning point came for her, she said, when she went to a Georgia Tech camp and one of the Yellow Jacket assistants gave her the confirmation she needed to know her career was headed in the right direction.
“One of their coaches told me, ‘Noell you have perfect hands. You just need the confidence to continue doing what you’re supposed to.’
“And great hands is a must for a setter. It just gave me confidence that I was meant to be a setter. I can’t jump. I can’t hit. I can’t run real fast. Those skills may come over time, but for now I know that being a setter was meant for me.”
Still, Stanton is taken aback by the thought of her coach thinking so highly of her.
“I’m really very shocked,” she said. “But it’s amazing. What a privilege it is to have your coach think that way about you.”
Regardless of the accolades, Stanton realizes that Ola’s success — and even her own — is not just about her. While the sophomore setter is gracious in receiving her accolades, she knows that without her teammates, she, nor Ola, would be in a position to make noise in Region 4-AAAAA that includes Clayton teams, Forest Park, Mount Zion, Mundy’s Mill and Drew.
“I think we’re pretty decent right now,” she said. “We’re just so much like a family. We’re like a little community that cheers each other on when we’re getting down or when things aren’t going so well.”
Things went fairly well for Ola last year in posting its 29-12 record. The Mustangs were a bit streaky at times last season, posting a pair of six and five game winning streaks alongside a four game skid in the middle of the season, and an end of the season streak of three straight losses.
The Mustangs almost pushed their way into the postseason. But they found themselves saddled in fifth in a deep region behind Union Grove, Northgate and McIntosh and Whitewater — two teams that combined for 101 victories. Whitewater won its second state title in the last four years.
Seven seniors have departed from last year’s Ola squad, and Caldwell mentioned two rising seniors — Maggie Ivester and Essence Lester — who can fill in the gaps.
But Stanton’s importance to this year’s bunch, even despite her youth, cannot be overstated.
And she knows that. But she also understands her place.
“It is kind of hard to lead people older than you,” she said. “But I’m not going to let my teammates see me trying to control them. I’m just wanting to help my team get better. It’s still shocking. But I love the responsibility and I know I can do it.”