Thompson Volleyball: Chop Wood, Carry Water
Judy Green is a product of her upbringing. The coaching veteran of more than 30 years has a reputation that precedes her not only in Alabama, but in coaching circles across the country. There's a slim chance you’d find her talking that way about herself though.
“I was that kid who followed her dad around and I just fell in love with sports, loved every aspect of it and, you know, volleyball was actually the last sport that I actually fell in love with.”
Growing up around the Appalachians of North Carolina, Green was raised by athletes. Both her mother and father played basketball at a high level while her father also played semi-pro softball for his company’s team. Naturally, she played almost every sport in the book growing up, but volleyball presented a unique test.
“I think it was the challenge that you couldn’t catch it,” said Green, smiling. “I felt it was the truest team sport that I played, because we were all in such a small 30 by 30 square and you had to figure out how to move and work together.”
As her love for the game increased, so did her skill level and chose to play collegiately at Western Carolina University in nearby Cullowhee, NC. It was there that Green would be guided by her most influential mentor.
“When I went to college I was coached by Trish Powell who to me is still the best the best coach that I’ve been around,” said Green. “She just had a way of bringing out the best in you.”
Coach Green has been bringing the best out in her own players ever since. Before she gained national recognition taking the University of Alabama to their first ever NCAA Tournament appearance and winning the SEC Championship, Green turned the University of Montevallo into nothing short of an NAIA powerhouse.
And now, after taking the Warriors to a Super Regional in 2018, Green is faced with the task of girding another group of athletes towards their true potential. However, she would use a different tool this time around: summer reading.
During offseason workouts had her team do a book study on Joshua Medcalf’s “Chop Wood Carry Water.” One day out of the week teammates presented on a chapter followed by a time of transparent reflection between the players and coaches that Green says, “made ourselves more vulnerable to the things and the challenges that we’ve had in our lives and we just grew close as a team.”
The story follows a man who wants to become a Samurai warrior, but to begin his training he is told he must chop wood and carry water for the entire village for a year. It speaks to the notion that greatness is not achieved quickly, but through a process of performing daily fundamental tasks to perfection. Green’s Warriors responded.
“They were able to show each other they were real. That they were people first and volleyball players second and I think they developed a greater level of respect for one another,” said Green. “We’re a good volleyball team, but I think we’re on the verge of greatness because of what we did this summer.”
Thompson returns eight seniors including Kinsleigh Sabo and Emma Hughner along with All-County selections Kolbi Reed and Briana Wilson. They will begin the season ranked no. 6 in Class 7A and last year’s playoff run has prepared the team to take the next step toward becoming an elite program.
“Our expectations are to value the opportunity we have for that day,” says Green. “Everybody in our program knows our goal, but we don’t have to talk about it. We were grateful to get to the super regional last year, that was a big hurdle for us. But when we get back we won’t be shell shocked, we’ve had this experience and now we have to value every experience we have.”
“We’ve had the opportunity to play together a lot during a lot of really good play dates this summer. So we’ve been challenged which I think is good and I think it always exposes things you could work on when you play different teams with different styles than what you have.”
Kinsleigh Sabo stands out as a senior leader and defender, but also because of the personal hardships she’s experienced as an athlete. Last year, the Warriors lost her for the season after she injured her ACL for the second time in her career. Faced with the decision to persevere or gracefully fade into the background, Sabo opted to return for one last run with her teammates. As the libero, she’ll be counted on once more to hold the Warrior defense together.
“She’s still the glue of our team. It’s nothing short of a God thing for her to be out there again and to just go and play without reservation,” says Green. “There’s no better story of any kid by here that’s overcome that kind of adversity. Her leadership skills are superior.”
Outside hitter Kolbi Reed took Player of the Week honors several times last year and has led her teammates by example, but Green has seen a new side to Reed during the offseason.
“I think the biggest factor Kolbi brings is her competitiveness. When she walks in the building for practice and matches, it’s all business,” says Green. “I like that approach about her and she’s really improved her relationships with her teammates. She’s a really funny kid, you’d never know it.”
Briana Wilson burst onto the scene as a freshman last year at setter, but she will be moving outside to take advantage of her accuracy and what Coach Green describes as an innate sense of the game.
“She’s a spectacular athlete who’s learning how to become a great volleyball player,” says Green. “She’s got the ability to hit a multitude of shots, she sees the block well, she’s not going to be high error which we really needed on that pin. She’s got a sixth sense, I think she can read the game so well that she can create opportunities for herself as an attacker.”
“The difference last year between us and a lot of teams we played at the end of the year was we made more errors than the other team and I definitely think we conquered that.”
The Warriors will return to the court in 2019 with a renewed sense of purpose, experience and a group that is knit tighter than ever before.