Saturday, October 4, 2008

Troy's horses flying high so far

Troy senior Shannon Jones (9) jumps to make a block in a Big 10 volleyball match against Catholic Central on Friday. (JS Carras - The Record)

– It wasn’t supposed to be this easy for the Troy High girls volleyball team.

No youth program exists – yet – for girls in the Collar City to practice their bumps, sets and spikes before they can play on the modified team in middle school. And some of the best athletes on the team feel more comfortable on the softball diamond than they do on the court.

But with 10 of the 11 players from last year’s team returning and a contagious, happy-go-lucky attitude, the Flying Horses are off to an 8-0 start in Big 10 action and they are hoping to parlay their success into a home court advantage and then some in the sectional playoffs.

“We’re hoping for a home court,” said Kritsin Tully, Troy’s senior libero. “We’ve never had a home court before. At the beginning of the season we picked out ten goals and the big one was to go past one game in sectionals.”

Senior Shannon Jones, an outside hitter, is one of Troy’s weapons on the front line, adapt both at blocking shots and setting up her teammates. Jones dished out 25 assists in Troy’s three-set sweep of Catholic Central on Friday.

“We love being loud,” Jones laughed. “We’re just a loud team. We know as a team, we can’t get down on ourselves. So even if we lose a point, we’re back in the circle, saying, ‘forget that, we’ll get the next point’.”
Shannon Jones (9) has the Flying Horses off to an 8-0 start in the Big 10 this season. (JS Carras - The Record)

Jones is one of the best softball players in Section II and as a sophomore, she hit ten home runs – the most by any player in the state that season. In 2008, the Flying Horses won the Big 10 title for the third consecutive year, thanks to Jones’ 32 runs scored, 21 RBI and a .527 batting average.

“I’ve been working so much more for softball,” she said. “(Volleyball) is just a fun sport for me. I’d love to win a sectional title in volleyball, don’t get me wrong, but I focus on softball so much more.”

Shannon is one of the most athletic females I’ve ever met,” said Troy volleyball head coach Patti Blacklock. “If she ever played all season long, she’d be absolutely phenomenal.”

It is hard for Jones to focus on the volleyball season, especially since she made an official visit to Quinnipiac University on Saturday to take a look at their Division I softball program. But with four league matches remaining and challenging non-league matches in the Voorheesville and Ravena Tournaments, Jones is just one of the senior leaders priming the Horses for a run in Sectionals.

“They’re a special group of seniors - high-energy and an excellent work ethic,” Blacklock said. “I couldn’t ask for anything more from them.”

A handful of players started a club team so that they can stay sharp once the season ends, but with many members of the team playing other sports in the winter and spring months, it has been hard to develop a year-round following.

Jones and Tully, however, both singled out the team’s tenacity as a major reason for their accomplishments.

“When we do get down, when we’re in a hole and down by five or six points, we really know how to come together and pick it up,” Tully said. “We know how to pick each other up. We’re a really good communicating team and that’s why I think we’re so good too.”

Tully had 16 digs in the win over Catholic Central and she plays an important role on the back line. She is a bit like the field general on the court, shouting directions to her teammates and suggesting adjustments before each serve.

“It’s good for me for my height because I can’t really jump over the net,” Tully said with a laugh. “I’ve been able to learn a lot from watching from the back.”

With each victory, the Horses are gaining confidence, realizing this team can compete with any in Section II.

“I didn’t think we were going to be this good,” Tully said. “But we started winning the games and we kept it up and we’re playing really good. We’re struggling a little bit on our passes, but when it comes to the games, we’re picking it up.”

“We have six seniors and we all want to win a sectional title before we go out,” Jones said. “I don’t mean to be cocky, but we knew we were going to be a good team this year. This is our year to go as far as we want to go.”

-- Will Montgomery

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