In 2014 coach Monica Perdue took on a new challenge when she took over the Lady Knights volleyball program. Never playing organized volleyball throughout her athletic career, she was up to the challenge, leading Upson Lee to a season high in victories and a third place finish in Area 2 competition.
This summer Perdue has the Lady Knights working hard preparing for their 2015 season. According to Perdue, not only are the girls getting better, but she feels she is starting to find her way as a volleyball coach.
“This summer has been so much easier due to several factors,” said Perdue. “The girls have a good knowledge of what the game is like and are working hard to master the skills needed to play competitively. I have a great group of girls who push each other, encourage each other, and have a great determination to get better. We finished a team camp today put on by COLAVOL, which does an excellent job breaking skills down and really teaching the fundamentals of not only the skill but the mental part of the game. I also have a better understanding of the game. Last year was my first year coaching volleyball. I played basketball, softball, and tennis at Columbus State University. Volleyball is a very fast paced game and the speed of the game makes me really have to study the game and keep my own skills sharp.”
The Lady Knights will look to take another step forward, with many of their top players coming in the form of underclassmen. The team gained some much-needed experience last season, taking on some of the top competition around the area, playing teams such as Harris County, Veterans, and Eagles Landing. All three teams advanced in the State Playoffs, with Harris County and Veterans reaching the Elite 8.
“I think the experience the team gained and the excitement of being successful has pushed them to want more,” said Perdue “ As a coach you cannot make a player or team want to work hard to get better. Getting a taste of almost getting to go to the next level has made them hungry. Skill development is always key to any athletic endeavor. The mental part of the game is my biggest challenge. Keeping them focused in such a fast paced game and keeping them from being discouraged when a skill is not developing fast enough in their mind is tough. We want to have a tradition of great volleyball at ULHS. These girls realize that what foundation they lay is what the program is going to build on.”
Some key pieces to the Lady Knights team will return this season. Kyjha Kendall (Jr) and Kacee Fennell (So) return to the middle of the court and lead the Lady Knights in blocks, while Hadley Perdue (Jr), Diamond Cox (Jr), and Lydia Hill (Jr) return as outside hitters. According to Perdue, setting the ball has been one of the more difficult aspects of the game for the girls to master, but sophomores Macy Huckaby and Tanner Stewart have risen to the challenge. The Lady Knights also return five seniors, Gabriella VanHaelst, Tia Newman, Ashlaye Patillo, Christi Finley, and Delanie Richardson.
In the area this season, expect to see Veterans and West Laurens among the top of the standing, somewhere Perdue hope to see Upson Lee sooner than later.
“Veterans is the team to beat in Area 2,” said Perdue. “Most volleyball teams play with athletes that play club level volleyball year round. We don’t have that luxury yet in Upson. They also have middle school programs that are great at teaching skills so that at the high school level the focus can be more on game play.”
Wes McCard can be contacted at 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @WesMc21.