By Rubin E. Grant
The first month of Grace Burgess’ first season as Oak Mountain’s volleyball coach exceeded her expectations.
The Eagles fashioned a 14-7 record despite not making it out of pool play last weekend in the Heffstrong Tournament, hosted by Spain Park.
“It has been amazing,” Burgess gushed, “much better than I thought it would be for my first season, even though we’ve been in a pandemic.”
Burgess inherited a talented team that enjoyed some success in 2019, finishing 23-11, so she didn’t have to rebuild. She contributed the Eagles’ solid start to experience.
“I think it’s because the majority of these kids are junior varsity and varsity returnees,” Burgess said. “The freshmen who came in are new, but we’ve got a lot of experience with six seniors and seven juniors. We have two sophomores who travel with us when the JV is not playing.
“They have been here (in the program) and know how high the level of play is.”
Even so, Burgess wanted to put her stamp on a program she was already familiar with. She played at Homewood and was an assistant coach at Spain Park and Thompson following a playing career at LaGrange College. She also coached with the Alabama Juniors Volleyball Club for several years.
After taking over in June, to bond with her team, she took them out for a treat.
“We spent the summer, getting to know each other,” Burgess said. “I took them out for ice cream the very first day. I wanted to get to know them and I wanted them to get to know me. I wanted to know what their goals were, not just for this season or in volleyball, but in life. I want to see them more as a person, outside the gym.”
Burgess also implemented the hashtag #Edgg for the team’s four core values: effort, discipline, gratitude and growth.
“I think it’s great for any program at any level,” Burgess said. “The kids have defined how to evaluate those core values They have bought in to what we’re doing 100 percent. They trust me and believe in what I’m saying. They’ve been so committed it’s created a bond.”
On the court, the Eagles have gotten contributions up and down their roster. “We just have a solid core,” Burgess said, adding a few players have stood out.
“We have two setters, Avery Fletcher, a senior, and Kathryn Smith, a junior. Both set last year and are playing well,” Burgess said. “We have Landry Frisch, who’s been on the varsity since she was a sophomore. She plays as an outside hitter or right side hitter. She is leading us in every offensive category. Our libero, Sidney Jaffe, has been outstanding. She’s a solid player.”
Frisch and Jaffe are both seniors. In a four-set victory against Spain Park two weeks ago, Frisch had 18 kills and nine digs and Jaffe had 17 digs and three assists.
Despite the Eagles’ solid start, they will be hard-pressed to make it out of a Class 7A, Area 5 that includes Hoover, Thompson and Tuscaloosa County. The Eagles lost the first time they played Hoover and Thompson.
“It’s a really hard area, but we have played some really good teams and we’re not slowing down,” Burgess said. “We just have to play high competition sets and stay consistent.”