Back in the spring, Adairsville head volleyball coach Kailey Vaughn Martin was worried about the prospects of conducting a high school season in the fall. While that fear hasn’t completely evaporated, she is encouraging her team to have a fearless approach — not only to the season but also within individual matches.
Vaughn Martin is hoping the philosophy, along with the overall improvement inside the program, will lead to a big step forward this year for the Tigers.
“We’re working on playing smart, not just hard,” Vaughn Martin said. “So we’re figuring out how to read the other team, how to remember what they’re doing and take note of that mentally, and trust one another to do their job.
“We’re finally at a point in our game where we’re playing some real volleyball. The last couple of years, I felt like we were just getting there, but now I feel like we’re at a point where we are playing volleyball, we’re in it to win it and we’re just ready to go.”
Adairsville got its first taste of action Thursday night, when it hosted Christian Heritage in a scrimmage.
“They were on fire,” Vaughn Martin said of her varsity squad. “I was so proud of them. Our word for the day was fearless, so they were going hard, they were swinging, trying new things.”
While she was certainly excited to see her varsity and JV squads get to face off against an opponent for the first time, the evening also gave Vaughn Martin a dry run through all the new safety precautions needed this season.
“We had our Germ-X station set up, we had Clorox wipes at the scorers table and we had Lysol spray to sanitize the balls between sets,” Vaughn Martin said. “I’m using my managers as kind of our sanitation specialists. They are making sure between games that those protocols get followed. Their job is to make sure that we stay safe, as well as it being the girls’ responsibility to check their temperatures, Germ-X as often as they can and wash their hands as often as they can. …
“It was not as horrible as I thought it was going to be, following the restrictions and the protocols from GHSA. So I think we’ll be able to manage it, as long as we stay on top of things and keep each other safe.”
Adairsville’s first regular-season matches are set to take place Tuesday at Carroll County-based Temple. The Tigers will hold their Welcome to the Jungle tournament next Saturday and host the Bartow County Championships Sept. 12.
Those are all important dates, but the most important matches for Adairsville will take place in the newly expanded Area 6-AAA. As opposed to the four-team area the Tigers have been in recently, which guaranteed Adairsville a spot in the Class 3A state tournament, this year sees all nine members of Region 6-AAA in the same volleyball area.
“We’re definitely going to have to fight for our spot in the state tournament this year,” Vaughn Martin said. “It’s something I think we’re ready for or going to be ready for if we’re still playing at that point.”
One key factor in the Tigers' chances of putting together a successful season will be the impact of the team’s five seniors. In particular, libero Aaliyah Applin will once again be asked to lead the back row, while Brentley Durham has the task of helping hold down the fort up front. A pair of juniors Yatorrean Hale and Autumn Henderson will also look to provide important contributions.
At the very least, the group is displaying the positive attitude that Vaughn Martin admits was lacking at times in 2019.
“That’s something we struggled with last year, a lot of self-criticism and getting down on ourselves,” she said. “This year, we’ve got positivity in our hearts. We’re ready to go out there and make our changes.”
One of those major changes will involve a more strategic approach to each match. That alone signifies the strides the program has made in Vaughn Martin’s tenure.
“We’re really focusing on game strategy this year, not just fundamentals, which is where we’ve been in the past,” she said. “In the past, I wouldn’t even watch game film of other teams, because we need to focus on hitting or passing the ball. This year is a lot of focusing on the other team and what we need to do to overcome our opponent.”
There are higher expectations for the Tigers than in recent years, and that can be a scary proposition. But after a few months of uncertainty about the prospects of playing a season, Adairsville hopes fearlessness will help send its seniors out on a high note.
“When I first started this, I was very fearful and not expecting to have a season,” Vaughn Martin said. “I’m super excited that the seniors get to play out or at least start to play out their senior season. I want all of them to have the season they have worked so hard for for four years.”