Pike Road volleyball "getting better" in inaugural season

Junior Jaeda Gardner has emerged as one of the Patriots' best defenders

When Pike Road High started its football program this fall, coach Patrick Browning and his players were in their third year together after playing two years of junior varsity football.

The story wasn’t quite as rosy for the volleyball team, which had played a junior varsity schedule last season but entered the summer without a head coach.

“Parents were really working on me about it,” said Geoff Waring, a local club volleyball coach and a volunteer for several years for St. James. “I had no intention of doing it. I said ‘no’ for a while. But I was sitting here thinking, ‘I’m going to be here sitting at home when I could be helping these kids.’ Long story short, I know some of the kids on the team so I did decide to do it.”

The inaugural football season has been a rousing success to this point. The same can’t be said for volleyball, which won its historic first match (against Sidney Lanier), then was confronted with reality as the Patriots lost three of the next four while playing in the Mayor’s Cup.

“The reality is we’re playing without one varsity letter on our team,” Waring said. “These kids have never been through a varsity season and right now in Montgomery it’s deeper than it has ever been. There’s only a few great teams but there’s way more good teams than there’s ever been.”

Alabama Christian, an improving LAMP squad and perennial power Montgomery Academy are among those on the Patriots’ schedule, along with the best big-school program in the area, Carver. All have more experienced players, better chemistry and established programs that handed the new program defeats.

“We’ve got the ability to make some good teams play longer,” Waring said, “and we’ve not won those sets. Some of my girls play club (volleyball), so I don’t want to make it sound like we don’t have any volleyball players. We have some volleyball players, we’re just short on experience in these games. Then throw in the fact that this is the first time they’ve had me as a coach.”

Another factor is the lack of an available on-campus volleyball court. The Patriots are attending school at the old Georgia Washington Middle School facility but use the elementary school gym for practice and games.

“Everybody has a great attitude about it,” Waring said. “I’ve never heard any kids complain. And we have to practice the varsity and the JV (junior varsity) together. That’s not ideal, either. They know that getting all these sports teams up and organized is a work in progress.”

Pike Road doesn’t have a senior class, but seven juniors give the team some maturity and leadership: Zen Robinson, Younghyun Lee, Jaeda Gardner, Tynia Rogers, Payton Pierce, Demi Goodson and Cate Lovrich.

Lovrich has emerged as one of the top players on the team.

“She is, statistically, my best serve receiver,” Waring said, “and she leads the team in kills. She’s really holding us together. Her game gives us a chance.”

He also praised the play of Gardner. “She’s really improved as a defender on my back row,” he said.

The Patriots are 5-13 heading into this week, with several matches that could turn into wins with continued improvement.

“I do think we’re getting better,” Waring said. “My girls are good athletes and they’ve got a lot of pride, so this has been tough for them. We’re getting better, but nobody’s happy with how we’re doing. If we could just find a way to get to the Super Regional, that would be huge.”