Thompson Volleyball: Sweep The Sheds
As Judy Green enters her seventh year at the helm of Thompson volleyball, one distinctive trait stands out for her program: consistent improvement. Year over year, Green’s varsity teams have advanced to higher rounds of the postseason every year for the past several seasons. Now, the Warriors stand on the precipice of greatness coming into the year ranked no. 2 in the Class 7A preseason poll.
Despite the pandemic, tragedy and injuries in 2020, her Warriors advanced to the Final Four last Fall in another huge step forward for the program. Now, the veteran coach believes this could be her most complete team yet.
“I think, for sure, it’s the most athletic team that we’ve ever had here across the board. But you can’t win championships with just athletes so you have to have players that have a really good volleyball IQ, but also have to have players who are skilled in their positions in order to have the complete packages,” says Green.
“I believe we have that combination and probably the most promising thing I saw over the course of the summer was the development even with our oldest players. As you get older your development kind of slows down a little bit. Your effort doesn’t, your energy doesn’t, but I’ve seen growth in all our players--from our oldest rising senior to our youngest junior on our team--and that has been very promising over the course of the summer.
Just another example of consistent improvement in Judy Green’s system.
Thompson brings back several talented players including 2020 All-County selections Kaitlyn Grant, Caroline Canaday and Briana Wilson who will be part of the team’s core leadership. They lose outgoing seniors and first team All-County members Kelsey Tangle and Brynleigh Glover along with middle hitter Sophie Bearden who all have moved up to the collegiate ranks. Replacing players like that isn’t easy, but Coach Green was cool and confident in her seniors.
“I think we have collective leadership,” says Green. “Our seniors have bought into the fact that they are the ones who should be modeling the behaviors that we expect, as coaches, for our program. Really and truly they are the ones who are responsible for continuing the culture we’ve worked so hard to build here.”
Senior Bri Wilson headlines the offense as a multi all-county and all-state performer at outside hitter and has been growing her already elaborate repertoire in the offseason—especially on defense.
“She played the whole club season as libero, that’s almost certainly where she will play in college. What I liked about it is it allowed her to develop her ball control skills,” says Green. “She’s instinctive and can see plays happen before they happen. That bodes well for what we want to do offensively this season.”
Fellow senior Madison Touhey has formed a great bond with her hitters and looks ready to take the reins of the offense at setter.
“I think the experience of having to step in for Kelsey last year and being thrown in the fire with Madison’s personality she’s okay with that. She has enough confidence in herself that she knows she can get the job done,” says Green. “I’ve seen a lot of growth with her in terms of how she sets the middle attack and she has a great connection with Kaitlyn Grant and Sydney Mitchell.”
Senior Caroline Canady has also been working the club circuit hard over the spring and summer as well and will be a formidable presence at outside hitter.
“She’s healthy and jumping out of the gym right now. I think her confidence is the best it’s ever been since I’ve coached her and probably the best word to describe her is hungry,” says Green. “She wants to play at the next level and she’s working really hard to give herself those opportunities.”
The offseason theme that will continue into the Fall will be “sweeping the sheds” meaning no one is too good to sweep a shed if needed. Seeing her players pick up the mantle was an encouragement to Green and it translated to the court as the Warriors didn’t shy away from an arduous summer schedule.
“We’ve played great competition this summer, we’ve played almost every good team in the state. We’ve worked a lot on serving this summer and made it a priority for our team. We want to be the best serving team in the state of Alabama--we don’t want anyone to second guess who that is.”
As the new team took shape, another reassuring sign were the connections that were being formed within the players.
“They all have really good chemistry with each other. A word that came out of our last power league night, I heard the word trust come out of our players mouths. Like, wow I really trust y’all. So how strong can we make that trust bond be?
The talent and leadership is there for this team, but the Warriors also have a great deal of depth built up after seven years of Green as the volleyball program director.
“I think that everybody has a very specific role for our team and I think it’s our job as coaches to help them understand what that role is. Every kid on the team wants to help the team be successful, the team is the priority for this group of people. I think that they know each one of them brings something to the table and it’s just a matter of them earning the opportunity to play,” says Green. “They do that by working their tails off at practice. Experience is our greatest teacher and what we went through last year can be something that we can fall back on, but it’s not something we can rest on. Our work ethic has to continue to grow as we get closer to opening day. We have to have razor-sharp focus and be dialed in when it’s time for us to do our thing in the gym and we’re pretty close to that.”
A rising junior ready to step up that turns heads with her leaping ability, Kaitlyn Grant is primed for a great season at middle hitter after closing out a great second half of the season with the team in 2020.
“She probably grew the most over the club season,” says Green. “She really started to figure out the why she was doing this. I think her volleyball IQ increased a lot and she’s a high flyer. I don’t know if there’s another kid in the state that flies as high and jump touches as high as she does.
What we’ve been working on is getting her to play at that height and we’re getting there. With her speed and quickness, if we do a good job of passing and staying in-system, it’s going to be very difficult for teams to defend.”
Jada White, Sydney Mitchell and Baylee Southern will also be relied upon on to provide quality play along the net for the Warriors.
Samia Mason and Marlee Wydham will bring different skill sets to the libero position for Coach Green.
“This summer we’ve seen improvements in both of them. Samia’s passing and servicing skills have just been off the charts, doing it better than anybody on our team. Right now, her service skills are spot on, she is just passing nails this summer,” says Green. “Marlee is a great defensive player, gritty, has that go get it attitude, just won’t let the ball hit the floor.”
Judy Green and her coaching staff have been waiting for this generation of Warriors to develop and push the program to even newer heights. That time is now.