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Summer sets are good prep

What? No sand?

POSTED: July 23, 2014 10:00 a.m.
Adam Wynn/Barrow County News

Winder-Barrow volleyball coach David Rows talks with his team during a match Monday afternoon. Winder and Apalachee are hosting the Barrow Summer Bash this week.

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Coaches David Rows at Winder-Barrow and Joey Alfonso at Apalachee constantly try to get their volleyball teams as much exposure and practice as possible during the offseason, but that can be a difficult and occasionally expensive venture when travel and other arrangements factor in.

Instead of taking their respective teams to distant camps and training programs, the two coaches decided to work together and co-host a scrimmage series between the both of them. 

The Barrow Summer Bash features local schools such as Dacula, Mill Creek, North Oconee, George Walton and Jackson County facing off against the two Barrow public schools in an attempt to give everyone some late-summer practice before the GHSA season officially begins in a couple weeks.

For Apalachee’s Alfonso, the biggest benefit of the informal tournament has been getting his younger players some much-needed experience.

“We’ve had some girls who haven’t had a lot of varsity experience, some of them none, so it’s been good for them to get their feet wet,” Coach Joey Alfonso, varsity women’s volleyball coach at Apalachee High School, said. “We found this last year that because we played 26 matches in the last few weeks of June last year that it was tremendous for Taylor Bennett, whose a sophomore this year, that she would get a half a season, almost a whole season of JV in, and so it really educated her very quickly.

“Without that, we would not have been as good at the end of the year, and it’s happening for a lot our new girls this year.”

With the start of the season just two weeks away, each of these experiences are great the younger players and veterans alike.

The Winder-Barrow Lady Doggs are taking this last ditch training time as an opportunity to build some confidence and prove to themselves just how far they have come in such a short time.

According to Rows, this year’s team is already showing that they have made great strides towards improving on last year’s effort.

“We’re lightyears ahead of where we were last season. There’s no comparison,” Winder-Barrow varsity volleyball coach David Rows exclaimed. “I’m excited. We’re missing our number one middle right now…so we have some girls playing a little out of position. Once we put her in, we’re going to start off flying. I don’t see us starting off slow and girls learning their role.”

Toya Osuetbu is currently at volleyball camp in Gainesville, Fl and will rejoin the excited team soon. When that happens, Rows says, the Lady Doggs will be a force to contend with.

“We’re ready to go. Girls are hungry,” Rows added. “We have some girls who knows what it means to play varsity, and they’re hungry. They took their lumps last year and they’re hungry. They know we’ve gotten better, so I’m excited to see it.”

Fresh off of a team camp at Georgia State University, the Lady Doggs volleyball team has made a good impression so far at their hosted meet by taking down a couple of local opponents and by splitting a few other matches.

In their first two days, the Doggs have tallied wins over Jackson County, Monroe and Dacula. They went on to split later matches with Dacula and George Walton with a loss against Rockdale County. 

“Some of them we haven’t gone to third games, so it’s hard to tell what your record is when you split like that,” Rows acknowledged.

In a Monday game with Jackson County, the Lady Doggs let the Panthers get an 8-2 lead in the first ten points with both of those Winder scores coming off of Jackson County mistakes. While the boost was nice, relying on mistakes is far from Rows’ mind when planning strategy.

“To be honest, we don’t even focus on their mistakes. It’s nice and it can change momentum and give you something to work off of, but we tell girls that I’d rather we get points off of running our system and getting good passes and clean hits,” Rows explained.

“The other team’s mistakes is probably one of our least concerns. We want the ball and we want our points that way,” Rows added.

Jackson County would take that game in the end, but not until Winder fought back to grab a 15-13 lead and trade points back-and-forth for the 25-22 finish.

Winder’s tenacity to fight back in such a dire game was just one indication Rows had of his team’s improvement thus far.

“It was good. That was our first match of the night, so the girls were still getting used to being out there. We had a couple girls who weren’t with us for the weekend, so we had a couple girls getting used to the rotation and it took them a second to kind of get used to where they were going. Anytime you put a new cog in the wheel there, it’s tough to adapt,” Rows said. “But they did great. They did a lot of positive things.”

With the season quickly approaching, Rows has been narrowing down his focus and his list for what the team’s biggest needs are in practice. 

One great use of this week is giving the team an opportunity to work on those aspects.

“Our main focus has been getting good hits when we’re out of our system,” Rows noted. “When we have a bad pass and our setter is having to scramble a little bit, we want to be able to execute. We don’t want to give the other team free balls. That covers a lot of things from communicating to knowing where you need to be on the court.”

In addition to Osuetbu, Rows also acknowledged that senior Knyah Becton has made great strides in the offseason while participating in club ball while setter Keyshunna McKinnon has proven herself to be a real leader as well.

One of the great surprises so far has also been Olivia Nelson-Ododa, a freshman who has made her presence known on the court very quickly. Nelson-Ododa actually earned the Camp MVP award at the team’s Georgia State camp over this past weekend.

With all of this talent and all of these young women bringing their various skills to the team, Rows feels ready for what the team can do come the fall, but he has one last concern he wants to iron out over the final two days of the Barrow Summer Bash.

“I think any coach would tell you that you can get better defensively,” Rows mentioned. “We’re going to try and get a little quicker defensively in our back row and we’ve been working on covering and things like that.

“We have some pretty good teams coming in with North Oconee and North Forsyth,” Rows cited. “I’m excited to see what our girls are going to do when they’re playing against some stiff competition. We’re really working on making sure we play with positive attitudes and energy when we’re running our system. We have some good blocking up front, so we want to turn that into points on our end.”

Defense was Apalachee’s primary concern entering the scrimmage series, but Alfonso cautiously believes that his team is starting to bring that element of their game together.

[Quote about defense improving]

“We’ve held our own. We haven’t dominated people like we did in some matches last year,” Alfonso acknowledged. “But I’m pleased. I knew we had to pass better and we had to serve better, and we’ve worked really hard last week at getting better at that, and that hard work has paid off because we have done those things better.”

Leading into this week, Apalachee had struggled defensively at a couple of prior scrimmage events, but the results of the Barrow Summer Bash should speak for themselves.

In the first eight matches, Apalachee’s Volleycats are 7-0-1. The one split match was against a talented North Forsyth team.

Then again, those matches have come in unusual circumstances. Few teams have featured their full varsity rosters at the Barrow event either due to absences or in order to give some JV athletes time on the court. Alfonso’s squad has often been a mixed bag of varsity and JV players, while some lines are all varsity or all JV. 

With the unique coaching strategies, geared more towards preparation than winning individual matches, Alfonso admits that the results might not be as indicative as they seem.

“It’s hard to tell because everybody’s subbing,” Alfonso admitted. “We’ve got kids up on the ref stand, so it’s kind of hard to tell if you’ve won them all legit or not. Score is not really what we’re focusing on. We only keep score to know when we change sides or put a new lineup in.

“I’d hesitate to say how well we’re doing. We’re faring pretty well, but we’re playing a lot of kids, as well.”

Despite the scores perhaps not showing Alfonso as much as he would like, he still likes what he sees from his young women in each match.

One unique element of this scrimmage is that some former players from Apalachee have had a chance to officiate matches. Graduated Volleycat Hannah Gomolak spent some time on the net these first two days, and that is one sight that Alfonso enjoys seeing.

“I would love to see more of our girls come back. They’d be great scrimmage players, too, for our first team to go against and provide some good competition,” Alfonso said. “Hannah’s been one who’s happened to be around and has been very helpful because she was our libero and we lost her and she’s been helping to train a new libero for us and she’s coming along pretty well.

“I think it’s important to have someone who’s done it,” Alfonso added.

Two former Volleycats, Brittany Wehunt and Elaine Booth, have also returned as the JV coach and the middle school coach respectively. 

Similar to Winder-Barrow, Apalachee is expecting some stout competition by which to gauge themselves in the final two days of competition leading up to their first official scrimmage in a very short time.



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