Mount Zion seniors Ashante Finnie, left, and Chelsae Bryant have been looked upon to provide leadership to the senior-laden team this season. (Staff Photo: Derrick Mahone)
JONESBORO — It is safe to say that the Mount Zion volleyball team has taken its lumps the last three years.
Bulldogs coach Earl Simmonds is hopeful that this is the season that his team puts it all together for a state playoff berth.
So far, the team seems to be on that path with an 18-4 record and plenty of confidence on its side.
“We have had a big jump in the way we have been playing,” Mount Zion senior Ashante Finnie said. “The majority of the team is seniors, and we have been taking our lumps as we have grown as a team. We can’t turn back. We have to keep playing hard.”
The Bulldogs will need all this experience as they compete in perhaps the top volleyball region in the state. Last year’s Class AAAAA champion, Whitewater is a member of the region.
“This is our second year in this area, and the girls are getting acclimated to the competition,” Simmonds said. “We are learning from our losses. I really think it is the year that we do something, because we have taken some lumps as we have grown as a team. This is a tough area, so the girls know they have to step up their efforts if we are going to make the playoffs.”
Simmonds says the leadership from the seniors has been good, and they are leading the younger players.
Finnie is a four-year player, and captain of this year’s squad. She says that leadership comes natural for her.
“When I was an underclassmen, I don’t think the seniors on the team provided that much leadership,” she said. “I said when my turn comes, I wanted to lead this team. I think it is important that I set the right example.”
Not only is she a leader on the team, but she is among the leaders of her classmates in the hallways. Finnie has risen to the ranks of commander of the school’s Air Force JROTC program. After college, she said she wants to explore a career in the military.
“I think leadership comes natural for me,” she said. “It is not hard being a leader of this team because we are all so close. They are like my sisters. We have a sisterhood on this team, and we get along real well.”
Aside from earning a playoff berth, Finnie said winning the county tournament would be a big accomplishment. Rival Jonesboro has been the dominant team in the county, having won the last 13 straight championships.
Last season, Mount Zion defeated Jonesboro in a regular season match, but wasn’t able to do the same in the county tournament. The Bulldogs also won an earlier match, and they are hopeful of beating their rival.
“This is a real special team,” said senior Chelsae Bryant, the team’s co-captain. “We have seen so much improvement in our team. We feel like its our time. We now go into matches thinking we have a shot at winning. We know what everyone is capable of doing.”
Simmonds said the elevation in competition has been a big factor in the team’s success.
“We have had a lot of on the job training the last couple of years,” Simmonds said. “We have been able to double our output on the team. We are working on the finer details of the game. We have not been discourage about our losses. We have had the opportunity to play against some of the best teams in the state.”