By Rubin E. Grant
Lilly Johnson has an edge.
At least that’s how Spain Park volleyball coach Kellye Bowen describes the Jaguars’ junior setter’s confident style of play.
“She’s competitive and talented,” Bowen said. “It’s hard to teach a player to have an edge and be competitive, and she has both.”
Johnson’s competitive edge, plus court awareness, has allowed her to reach a milestone for assists in only her second season on the Spain Park varsity.
She surpassed 1,000 assists for her career while the Jags were winning their very own HeffStrong Tournament Sept. 24-25. The 5-foot-5 Johnson credited her teammates for reaching the milestone.
“It’s incredible,” she said. “My teammates are great hitters and passers and everyone is so incredible. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without them.
“I am glad I got the chance to do it. God blessed me with the talent and also to be a part of a special team.”
Johnson has 535 assists this season. She has benefitted from playing alongside Spain Park’s dominating 6-4 senior outside hitter Audrey Rothman and 5-11 junior outside hitter Emily Breazeale. Rothman eclipsed 1,500 kills for her career in the HeffStrong Tournament.
“They’re incredible,” Johnson said.
Johnson and Rothman also play on the same club team, Birmingham Volleyball Club-17 Haven. Johnson has great admiration for Rothman.
“She’s amazing,” Johnson said. “She’s one of the best leaders I have ever played with.”
Johnson has been playing volleyball since she was in the fifth grade, starting in a YMCA league. She also played at Berry Middle School.
During club season, Johnson is a defensive specialist and a right-side hitter but switches to setter for Spain Park. It has turned her into a knowledgeable player.
.“She has a great awareness of the game and who to set to and when to set,” Bowen said. “Of course, Audrey and Emily are good options – it helps who you have hitting – but when we run this play or that play, knowing where the blockers are is important. She does a good job of getting the ball to the best player and she makes good decisions.”
Johnson believes her versatility is advantageous.
“I see the court better when I am playing defense on the club team,” she said. “It helps me make decisions on how and where to set because I know the middle blockers better.”
Johnson has been playing more minutes at setter recently because the Jags’ other setter, Bella Halyard, has been sidelined by a sprained ankle. Halyard is expected to return soon.
Hanging on to No. 1
Spain Park entered October with a 29-4 record and a No. 1 ranking in Class 7A, a position it has held all the season.
“I think we have a really special team,” Johnson said. “We’ve all got the same mindset on how we want to try to win. We’re all on the same page. We want to win more than any team I’ve ever been on.”
The Jags will close the regular season in the 34th Margaret Blalock Tournament Friday and Saturday at Homewood High School and Homewood Middle School.
Area tournaments across the state will be held Oct. 11-16, the super regionals are scheduled for Oct. 20–22, and the state tournament is set for Oct. 26-28 at the Birmingham CrossPlex and Bill Harris Arena.
The Jags are aiming to win the school’s first state championship after falling to Hoover in the Class 7A championship match in 2020.
“I think our main motivation this season has been last year,” Johnson said. “We put it 100 percent on the floor and came up short. It was really hard to lose, but I feel it was a great steppingstone for this year.
“We owe it to ourselves and our coaches to win it this time.”