Because his team was hit hard by graduation, Mount Zion coach Earl Simmonds has had to move several players around to new positions. (Staff Photo: Derrick Mahone)
JONESBORO — It’s a new season for Mount Zion volleyball, and that isn’t only because the calendar has changed. The Bulldogs only return two players from last year’s team and will play in a new classification and area.
Bulldogs coach Earl Simmonds, who returns for his seventh season, recognizes the challenge.
“It’s a huge transition,” Simmonds said. “It’s pretty much like starting over.”
Complicating matters is that this will be an introductory season for the Bulldogs’ returning players as well.
“The returning players are not playing the positions they normally play,” Simmonds said. “My libero is now my setter. My middle is primarily outside.”
Keonna Hobbs has switched from the middle to the outside position and Zaria Ruffin is the former libero, turned setter. Ruffin moves her focus from defense to now being an offensive focal point.
“I have to set up my hitters like Keonna,” Ruffin said of her new role. “It’s kind of different, but I’m getting there.”
Likewise, Hobbs is adjusting.
Fortunately she got an early start at her new position in the offseason playing the position for her club team.
“I’m liking it since I got extra play with the (Atlanta) Boom,” she said speaking of her club team. “I’m getting used to outside.”
Also new for Ruffin and Hobbs are their leadership roles.
“All of the girls are majority freshmen and some JV players,” Ruffin said. “We really have to teach them all how to play and how we play at Mount Zion.”
Hobbs doesn’t necessarily think that is a bad thing.
“We’re getting new people and we can shape them into how we want them to be,” she said. “It’s easier to shape them instead of teach people who already know what they’re doing and are being stubborn.”
While the roster turnover is noticeable, the change that will affect this year’s team the most just may be the new area they are in.
Last year the Bulldogs finished 33-19, but missed out on the playoffs, competing against some top-level teams. No longer in Area 4-AAAAA, Mount Zion now calls Area 4-AAAA home.
Their competition there will be four DeKalb County schools, Atlanta’s Grady, and county rival Jonesboro.
This may seem like a reprieve from having to face the last two Class AAAAA state champions McIntosh and Whitewater, plus other powers, but Simmonds is not ready to celebrate.
“If it was the same team from last year we might be having a different conversation,” he said.
Ruffin isn’t focusing on the new area either.
“I’m trying to go to state,” she said. “I don’t care who the competition is. I want all of us to get better so we can go to state. I’m trying to win every game.”
That would be the Bulldogs’ first-ever postseason berth according to the recollection of Simmonds. As far as his thoughts on how this year’s team will fare, he honestly doesn’t have a guess.
“It’s almost up in the air,” he said. “We’ve just got to come to play.”