Caroline Jenkins lit up when the public address announcer at William Blount High School announced her name as the most valuable player of the 2011 Blount County volleyball tournament Monday night.
Couldn’t have happened to a more deserving player, her coach and Maryville teammates said.
The Lady Rebels entered the tournament having fallen in convincing fashion to rival Heritage only the week before. For a talented, senior-laden team, it was tough to take. For Jenkins, it was time to take action.
Prior to Monday’s matches, the physically imposing but soft-spoken middle blocker put together a goodie bag of gifts for each of her teammates, each containing the message now was the time to turn it on. Volleyball is a tournament sport, and the most important tournaments, districts, regions and beyond, are fast approaching.
“She made a point of telling them (Monday) was important,” Maryville coach Nichole Dzikus said.
The speech was a brief one, Jenkins said.
“I just told them, ‘Tonight (Monday) mattered and go hard,’” she said. “I was tired of losing, and I knew the team was, too. The enthusiasm was great. Even when we were down, we just picked it up and played hard. They’re looking to me, so I knew I had to step up for the team.”
The Lady Rebels answered the call, sweeping Alcoa, William Blount and the aforementioned Lady Mountaineers to claim the county championship. The task now is to lock in those gains, Dzikus said.
“We have to be careful not to take a slide from this,” she said. “We have to be careful to grow from it.”
Jenkins had eight kills and two service aces in Monday’s opener to start the tournament with a 25-23, 25-20 win over William Blount. Senior Miranda Maples tacked on eight bombs, with junior Kendra Swafford setting the pace for the Lady Governors with a match-high nine kills.
To set up a clinching victory over Alcoa in the round-robin tournament, the Lady Rebels took the court with the same Heritage team that had won so handily the week before. Again, Jenkins was out front with seven kills and three blocks, Maples matching the kills total, as the Lady Rebels moved to the title match with a 25-20, 25-18 decision. Libero Jessica Connatser had five digs and a pair of aces.
“I think we were just more motivated,” Connatser said.
Senior outside hitter Allison Barbee took the lead in the finishing match with seven kills, with Ciera LaGrange adding three aces, Jordy Garrison 12 assists, as Maryville claimed the title with a 25-22, 25-14 win over Alcoa.
Jenkins is that rare player in high school volleyball, Dzikus said. A nearly 6-foot blocker, she plays all six rotations for the Lady Rebels, never subbing out.
“That’s kind of a big deal because most middles don’t play back row,” Dzikus said.
It’s not every captain who knows just the right time, and, perhaps more importantly, just the right way, to get her teammates’ attention. Can’t wait to see what she comes up with for the district tournament in a few weeks time.