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We’ve Only Just Begun

 

By Kevin Taylor

Alma Schools 

 

Before walking on hot asphalt from their car to the door of the gym, where the piercing August sun is so hot you can literally fry an egg on it, most volleyball players must first learn to brave the cold. 

 

Volleyball doesn’t start in early August; it begins on cold January mornings in packed gymnasiums. This is where second-year Alma volleyball coach Kim Weaver finds herself most weekends in the dead of winter. 

 

Blankets, anyone?

 

Reviving the school’s volleyball program begins with long hours and tenacious junior olympic volleyball workouts.

 

“John Kessel (long time leader in the sport) says, ‘The game teaches the game.’ The more our student athletes are able to play the game of volleyball, the better they will get, and ultimately we will get,” Weaver said. JO isn't the only way to gain experience, but it has proven to be a very good way. Once our fifth and sixth graders are being exposed to volleyball and taught how to play, we will see our junior high teams dramatically improve.”

 

Weaver was offered the Lady Airedales’ job in the fall of 2019 on the premise the program lacked a strong JO connection. Not long after getting on campus, however, the world turned upside down with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

 

Alma struggled to win five matches in 2020. And, though the Avery Fitzgeralds and Paris Thompsons of the world aren’t going to walk through the door anytime soon, Weaver is eager to change the culture and build a program. 

 

That begins with winter JO volleyball matches. 

 

Alma currently has three Fort Smith Junior Satellite teams. 

 

“Lauren Wood (UAFS alum) and Taylor Thornbrugh (Alma alum) are coaching these girls twice a week and during tournaments. We have a 13s (seventh grade), a 14s (eighth grade), and a 15s (ninth grade) team, “Weaver said. “We also have four 16s (10th graders) and two 17s (11th graders) playing on FSJ teams in Fort Smith. In total we have 38 athletes playing volleyball right now.”

 

Weaver and the rest of the world are hopeful the pandemic will slowly begin to run its course. Summer team camps are crucial something Alma players weren’t able to experience last summer.

 

“Building relationships and trust within our teams is not only important, but it is also critical,” Weaver said. “Team camps provide a great environment to accomplish those things, and it is very difficult to replicate that environment anywhere else. Becoming a team takes time, and COVID took too much of that time away from us last spring (and) summer.”

 

The Lady Airedales will return key players from the 2020 team, most notably Rachel James and Rebekah McIntosh. “Both experienced large amounts of varsity play in 2020,” Weaver said. “They will need to put that experience to good use this fall because they will have several teammates looking to them for support, and a coaching staff expecting to see solid leadership attributes in them every day.”

 

Weaver has her eyes on a number of ninth-graders who could make an impact as well. 

 

“I expect to see at least two, and maybe more ninth-graders will make an immediate impact for us in the fall,” she said.”I believe the ninth grade group as a whole is going to be a great addition to our high school program.”

 

Weaver will bid farewell to her first senior class this spring. But she made them a promise following the end of the 2020 season. 

 

“I made the (2021) seniors a promise they will be my first call when we win our next state championship,” Weaver said. “I want them to be a part of hanging that banner. Coaching changes are hard, especially when they come right before your senior year. This group handled the change with a maturity that really impressed me. 

 

“I am extremely thankful for the season I was able to spend with them.”