Albany Alexander has not lost a regular season match since the fall of 2004 and even with Jami Turrill and her 1,000 career kills off to the University of Charleston, the Lady Spartans look to a solid returning group to continue their dominant run in 2007. The only blemish on Alexander’s 2006 season came when it dropped a four-set match to Anna High School in last year’s Division III state semi-final match.
Albany Alexander has not lost a regular season match since the fall of 2004 and even with Jami Turrill and her 1,000 career kills off to the University of Charleston, the Lady Spartans look to a solid returning group to continue their dominant run in 2007. The only blemish on Alexander’s 2006 season came when it dropped a four-set match to Anna High School in last year’s Division III state semi-final match, and this year’s team is hungry for a return trip to Dayton and another shot at a state title.
Head coach Bradd Jeffers enters his fifth season at Alexander. In his first four seasons, Alexander has won three straight Tri Valley Conference Ohio Division titles, four straight sectional titles and three straight district titles. All totaled, the Spartans have recorded 90 victories and have been on the friendly side of the scoreboard in an incredible 90-percent of the games in which Jeffers has coached the red and black.
It is no secret that Turrill’s presence in the Alexander lineup played an incredible role in this four-year run. In fact, over the past two seasons Alexander has graduated the school’s only two All-Ohio volleyball players in Meghan Raines and Turrill, but Jeffers is excited about the balance and the potential of his squad in the upcoming season.
“Losing Meghan two years ago and now losing Jami (Turrill) and Keilee Guthrie (who signed to play college basketball at Shawnee State), it obviously leaves some holes to fill,” Jeffers said. “Fortunately, we have a group of girls who love the game and are willing to work extremely hard to get better. We do have some question marks right now, but this group has a chance to be really good if we continue to work hard.”
Leading the returnees for the Lady Spartans is a trio of All-TVC performers. Senior defensive specialist Lauren Thomas, junior strong-side hitter Whitney Smith and junior setter Lauren Raines all return this season with a lot of big-game experience. Add that to a much improved middle hitter Betsy Irwin and it is easy to see why the expectations remain high in Albany.
“You always have that girl on the other side of the net that you hope to key on and contain during a match,” Jeffers said. “Jami (Turrill) has been that girl for us for some time now, but I really think we have some girls ready to step up. I think Whitney (Smith) is ready to embrace that role, but she will in no way have to carry the load herself. Betsy (Irwin) and our other middles have really worked hard to get bigger and stronger, and Lauren (Raines) has a year of varsity setting under her belt. Add that to LT (Lauren Thomas), Allie (Sayers – the other senior on this year’s squad), and the other strong passers we have and this is a group that could be our most balanced team yet.”
Considering all the options Jeffers has to look at, it is easy to see why he and his assistant coach, Sara Carlston are still debating exactly how to use all of their weapons. The Spartans have a lot of new faces in the program this year that will battle for playing time, and although it will be tough to find time for everybody it is definitely a nice problem to have.
“We have really gone back-and-forth on what to do with our rotation,” Jeffers said. “We have looked at some different styles, and are still waiting to see how some of the new pieces are going to adjust to our system. In the end, you try to get your six best volleyball players on the floor as much as possible and see what happens.”
Alexander finds themselves in the familiar spot of being a heavy preseason favorite to repeat as TVC champs, but the Spartans have really tried to improve their non-conference schedule. The Spartans will spend most weekends this season playing in quad matches that include several of the better programs in the state.
“Besides from having a goal of winning the TVC, we also have a goal of wanting to make another deep run in the tournament,” Jeffers said. “We hope the nine non-league opponents that we have been able to get in some of our weekend trips will allow us to be better prepared later in the season. The kids are really excited about the year. They have put a lot of time into the weight room and we are definitely a bigger and better team than a year ago. Our program has always strived on having good chemistry and with the leaders we have on this team, I believe this year will be no different.”