Battle-Tested Thompson Volleyball Returns to Elite Eight
A season full of promise has manifested into a historic season as Judy Green’s Warriors prepare for the Elite Eight Wednesday, October 27. It’s the team’s second straight trip to the Birmingham CrossPlex to compete with the best of the best, but this year has already produced several firsts for the Thompson volleyball program including a no. 1 ranking in Class 7A, an area championship and a first-ever appearance in a Super Regional championship.
Coach Green has built a club marked by consistent year-over-year improvement and this team is no different. However, it goes beyond coaching as this group has bought in and not only improved themselves individually, but grown together and built a chemistry that’s allowed them to reach heights never seen at Thompson before now.
“We felt like we had some really good puzzle pieces as a team, we had some experience and some kids that have been on the floor in postseason play that we would be able to lean on,” says Green. “This team really loves one another and enjoys playing for each other. I felt like we had enough skilled position players that we could really do a lot of growing during the season and not reach a peak where we topped out halfway through the year.”
Knowing the kind of team she had and the challenges the postseason would present, Green set up a gauntlet of a regular season schedule dotted with top tier teams around every corner. Multiple matches against perennial programs like Spain Park, McGill-Toolen, Spanish Fort and Montgomery Academy have the Warriors battle-tested and prepared for whatever awaits them in Birmingham.
“It was about exposing ourselves to every style of volleyball we could possibly see. The regular season is there to prepare you for the postseason,” says Green. “We have good film, we’ve been watching film of all the teams we could potentially face for a long time, but at the end of the day, its about which coaching staff can get their team to do what they need to do to be successful.”
“I don’t feel like we’ve not seen any type of team or player that we would face to this point,” said Green. “Whether it was a positive result or a negative result, we were able to experience it and problem solve through it during a match and see if we could figure out how to get it done.”
The fact that this team survived and thrived in a season of adversity--and remained healthy while doing so--speaks to the character of this squad. Judy Green understood her team could handle it, but they’ve also shown her a little more than even she was expecting.
“I knew that they were competitive, but I’ve seen them take their competitiveness to another level,” says Green. “I’ve seen them do it with more grit and a little bit of edge about themselves, which I think stems from what we’ve been through as a team this season. I think what we’ve been through, the ups and the downs, has really instilled a great deal of confidence in our players.”
This season, the Warriors have been through several five set “wars” as Green would describe them. While several haven’t gone their way, they provided teaching moments and opportunities to improve their own process by being refined in the fire.
“We really focused on earning two more points per set,” said Green. “We went back and talked with the team about ‘why did we lose so many close two point sets’ was it something they did or was it something where we were causing harm to our own selves? We felt like we left points on the table in each of those sets that we lost because of our errors so we really adjusted our practice plan to address having to play more error-free volleyball because, honestly, the team that makes the least amount of errors is going to be the team that wins.”
The results of that introspective kind of improvement were on full display as the Warriors completed a stunning 3-0 sweep of the Hoover Buccaneers to win their first area championship in a decade. Brianna Wilson, Kaitlyn Grant and Baylee Southern were selected to the All-Area team and made a particular impact in the two matches against Hoover and Oak Mountain.
Senior Bri Wilson is a three time All-County performer and was a 2020 All-State selection when Thompson advanced to the Final Four last Fall. Wilson’s athletic ability isn’t in question, playing exceptional defense while also being the Warriors’ most effective attacker at the net. She passed 1,000 kills and 1,000 digs earlier this season in one of the most impressive careers Thompson has ever seen playing at the varsity level all four years.
“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 need on that pin,” said Green. “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.”
Fellow senior Baylee Southern had always been a valuable member of the rotation, but has seen vast improvement that’s been one of the catalysts for Thompson’s upward momentum throughout the year.
“She’s been the most versatile player we’ve had, she sets for us when needed, she plays right side and blocks and attacks for us there and at the beginning of the year she was playing a little bit on the back row,” says Green. “I feel like she just kept working on her game and found a way to make an impact on our team and has done that in a very positive way.”
Kaitlyn Grant’s return from injury last season was one of the big boosts that propelled the Warriors into the state semifinals and her ability to score and defend will be key as the Warriors seek to return to that plateau.
“She’s been the most consistent middle (blocker) in terms of being able to produce points for us and when we’re able to pass and control the first contact in serve receive it makes her a very viable option,” says Green. “I do think she’s very difficult to defend because she’s lightning quick and has a very fast arm. We’ve worked a lot with her on increasing her hitting range to multiple places on the court and her offspeed game and she’s learning how to put more tools in her tool box.”
With the pieces in place and the experiences of battles won and lost, Judy Green and Warriors are looking to take that next step to establish Thompson amongst the ranks of the elite.
Thompson will face the Fairhope Pirates in the Elite Eight Wednesday, October 27 at 10:30 a.m. on Court 3 of the Birmingham CrossPlex.