Dan Maehlman, who has build Jonesboro into the most successful program in the county, must rebuild this season with only three experienced players returning from last season. (Staff Photo: Derrick Mahone)
JONESBORO — If its one thing that Dan Maehlman has learned in all his years of coaching is that patience sometimes has to be the most important aspect of developing a team.
Maehlman will need to exercise some patience with this years Lady Cardinals volleyball team.
With the return of only three regular players, Maehlman has his work cut out to mold this team into championship caliber. Last season, the Lady Cards finished area runner-up to Woodland. Paul Cook was the coach last season as Maehlman took a break after 12 years at the helm.
He returns this season with the retirement of Cook, who also served as the school’s boys soccer coach.
“Earlier on in my career, I probably wasn’t as patient as now,” Maehlman said. “Yes, I want to win, but I realize that this team is different from last year’s team. Each team must find its own identity.”
But regardless who steps on the court for the Lady Cards, there is a high level of expectancy. Jonesboro has been the most dominate team in the county the last 12 years.
“I still love to win,” Maehlman said.
And the players have those same high expectations.
“We want to win the trophy,” junior Michaelle Smith said. “Losing in the area finals was heartbreaking last season.”
Jonesboro pushed several of the areas perennial upper echelon teams — including region 4-AAAA champion Woodland — to the limits on its way to a region runner-up finish and state tournament berth. The Cardinals finished 38-10 overall and 7-1 in the area. They went a step further than the 2011 team, which lost in the first round of the playoffs.
Now, different players will be asked to play big roles on the team.
One of those is sophomore Vickie Sutton, who will have to step into a leadership role despite her age.
“I think we have a chance to be very good,” Sutton said. “We have real good chemistry on this team. We have really bonded as a team. I will try to be a leader. I know it will be a challenge, but I know we have a chance to be a good team.”
How good depends on how some players from last season’s JV squad steps up.
“We are not where we want to be at this point, but by season’s end we will get there,” Maehlman said. “In past seasons, we have gotten better as the season goes on.”
As the upcoming season looms, Jonesboro will be looking to dominate the county again, and challenge for an area title, despite having to replace several key cogs. Maehlman is high on senior Kendall Thomas, who will inherit much of the leadership role.
“Kendall has been around this program,” Maehlman said. “She knows what I expect. She is an extension of me on the court. I will rely on her to be more vocal with this team. We must grow and develop throughout the season if we are going to be good.”
While he refrains from talking about the team’s past success, Maehlman said every team knows about the tradition, and they strive to keep it going.
“Nobody wants to be the team that doesn’t make the playoffs,” Maehlman said. “We treat each team and year different. I’m sure we should be able to get 12 to 15 girls and turn them into something by the time region tournament time begins. We don’t just step out on the court like a McIntosh, Woodward or a Whitewater and just bang and bang.
“Hitting, technique on hitting, serving — those are the things we teach them everyday. It’s very basic. We have some pieces coming back that should make us remain pretty competitive in our region.”