The Sneads High School Lady Pirates volleyball team claimed another state championship on Friday in Fort Myers, defeating Newberry in the final by 3 sets to 1 in a tightly-contested match that day.

Sneads won the first two, by scores of 25-16 and 26-24, but dropped the third with a score of 21 to Newberry’s 25. The Lady Pirates emerged from the fourth with a 25-22 victory to seal their best-of-five victory without having to play the fifth as a decider.

This is the team’s seventh championship in a row. Head coach Heather Edge, assistant coach Emily Glover and most of their team members returned home Saturday night to a big welcome. The team had defeated Cottondale, Blountstown, Wewahitchka and Baker on their way to the title match.

Edge said the keys to the playoff victory and the winning season in general were these: Respect for the opponent, intense training and focus.

That focus was threatened in the title match, Edge said, when her team and its crowd of supporters became frustrated by what they believed to be questionable and inconsistent calls on the part of officials. The displeasure was expressed from the stands, and her players were having trouble on the floor, letting those calls get to them.

“I had to call a time out, because it was getting in their heads,” Edge said. “I could see the nerves. It was an atmosphere where they were like, playing on eggshells, afraid of what calls were coming. It was almost like we were competing against the officials, too. We had to shake that off and I’m proud of the girls. They could have let that really stick in their heads, but they overcame it. I’m not fully pleased with how we played, because it was closer than I like to see the score, and the train got off the tracks a little in the set we lost against them, with too many errors, but still, a win is a win.”

That match was also difficult in another way. Newberry is new to Class 1A and so was not a well-known opponent going into the game. It had been a Class 5A school until last year, and so her team had no experience against any of their players and didn’t know their typical strategies, strengths and weaknesses. And there was another challenge: 5A schools are typically much larger than those in 1A, meaning the coaches of those schools have a much larger pool of athletes from which to assemble their teams. Edge isn’t sure how Newberry suddenly became Class 1A, but the team’s championship trophy is evidence of her team’s ability to handle their arrival on the scene.

She said she’s been worried about the team’s square-off against Baker in the run-up to that showdown. Edge says there seems to be some “bad blood” between her players and that arch-rival that tends to bring up emotions she feared would throw her players’ performance. However, her squad ran away with the match. “That was a breath of fresh air,” Edge recalled.

She said her team took every match and opponent seriously, no matter how many times or to what extend they might have beaten them before. “You respect every team, no matter what their ranking. You focus on the game you’re playing and try to stay humble. You don’t do that, you don’t keep winning.”

The volleyball squad starts conditioning in summer workouts in June each year. “I think we train harder than most football teams,” Edge said. “These girls pour their blood, sweat and tears into this. It’s very intense. They have to earn every little thing they get along the way. We rid ourselves of all negativity. They play like sisters. It’s everything you could ask for as a coach.”

Some volleyball tidbitsLibero: The Spanish word means “free.” In volleyball, it’s the position name for a player allowed to “roll in” at the will of the coach to substitute for another designated player. The libero can only play on the back row, and can only substitute for the players specified by the coach before the start of a set. Lily Glover is the primary libero for SHS. As such, she wears a different colored jersey; instead of team white, she wears navy. This is to help the game officials know at a glance that she’s that position player. Normally, substitutions are formally carried out from the sideline where the official waves-in the change-up. The libero can come in without that that formality. It’s a point of honor to wear the opposite jersey color, Edge said, because it signifies a player of great skill in passing.

{span style=”text-decoration: underline;”}Setter{/span}: This is a player with the best hands, dependable consistency of play, and skillful finesse with the ball. The setter, Edge explained is the equivalent of a quarterback in football. The setter is almost always the second to touch the ball off the serve, placing the ball strategically to a power hitter. She runs the offense and has one of biggest roles on the team. At SHS, Jordyn Riano is the primary but there’s depth at the position.

{span style=”text-decoration: underline;”}Passers{/span}: Occupy the back row. For SHS, those positions are covered by Jada Coleman, Sister Arnold and Taylor-Reese Howell. The three are skilled in that position and can sometimes substitute for defensive players.

{span style=”text-decoration: underline;”}Hitters{/span}: Occupy the front row. For SHS, those positions are covered by Kiara Garrett and Hadley Barfield. Edge says they’re her most consistent in the roles of “six-rotation outside hitters,” working from the left side and capable of powerful spikes.

{span style=”text-decoration: underline;”}Middle blockers{/span}: Players in this position are expected to be able to jump high and block incoming shots very well. For SHS, the positions are covered by Aaliyah Baker and Kazia Gainer and sometimes Michaela Edenfield. Libero Lily Glover often rotates in for Baker and Gainer. These two, who, like many in those specialized roles, are not as strong when they rotate to the back row into passing positions. Middle blocker are known to have great vertical reach and they basically , when the other team is trying to slam a winning shot across net, set up and “stuff” the ball by putting up a wall with their hands. Her starters are key defensive players and very fast on offense, Edge said.

{span style=”text-decoration: underline;”}Right side hitter{/span}: This position starter is Michaela Edenfield. She was the offensive Most Valuable Player in the championship game for Sneads. Edge described her as an intimidating force. Edenfield is also very good in another sport-softball. So good, in fact, that next week she will sign with Florida State University to play that sport.

‘Good program’ problemsPlayers continuing to develop into potential first-stringers are Brooke A. Smith, a defensive specialist and right-side hitter; Caleigh Davis, and upcoming middle blocker/right side hitter; Jade Fitzsimmons, who is developing into a strong right-side hitter and has the team spirit Edge looks for; and Brooke R. Smith, in her first season at SHS. She’s come in from Monroe County and is showing “phenomenal” promise in the role of a setter, Edge said. Currently, these spend more time than they’d like on the bench, but Edge said it’s not because they’re poor players. “It’s a ‘good program’ problem,” Edge said, with a strong core of starters holding their places well.

Edge expects great things of those squad members next season.

As for the prospect of losing four seniors this year — Kazia Gainer, Jordyn Riano, Michaela Edenfield and Hadley Barfield — Edge is always scouting the crowd at SHS for some “vertically gifted” potential players who are tall enough and talented enough to symbolically step into the shoes that will be emptied when some of her middle blockers graduate.

Edge characterizes the upcoming season as a likely “reload” year, not a “rebuilding” year, since the expectation of a rebuild implies that something’s broken. That’s not the case, she says, with a strong bench in the wings ready to step up. With some of their tallest players leaving, the average height will be about 5-feet, 8-inches. That will necessitate a focus on finesse in strategies that don’t necessarily depend heavily on tall slammers doing so much damage at center net.

“It’s not rebuilding because things aren’t torn down; we’ll just have to train, train, train. Two of my four seniors are over six feet tall, and right now I don’t have anyone else coming with that height. Almost everybody is about five-feet, 8-inches or shorter so we’re going to be vertically challenged. We must have a really strong defense to keep the ball in play until the odds fall in our favor. We’re not going to be able to just slam the ball. It’s going to take a lot of strength and jump training to keep us where we need to be competitively. I’ve got some committed, enthusiastic people and I believe that they have what it takes.”

Some player stats» The Pirates offensive player of the title match was Michaela Edenfield. Defensive player of the match was Lily Glover.

» Lily Glover led the defense in the final match with 29 digs and only one digging error throughout the match. This puts her season-total digs at 609. She leads all of Class 1A volleyball teams with that total. She also led the team in receptions with 36 and no serve-receive errors.

» Michaela Edenfield led the Pirates with 17 kills in the match. Following her was Kiara Garrett with 12 kills, and Kazia Gainer with nine. Gainer has scored the match-winning point in the final for two years running. Her grandfather, Roy Edenfield, serves as the team photographer.

» Kiara Garrett reached an overall 307 kill-total on the season, the highest on the team.

» Jordan Riano had 989 season assists before the championship match and totaled 42 assists. With the post-season stats added, her senior-year assist total went to 1,031. Her entire high school career assists number well over 2,000, and she leads all of Class 1A with that total.

» Kazia Gainer led the team with block kills in the championship game, with four. This means she blocked the other team’s attack so well that the opponent could not pick the ball up. “She was basically a wall with her hands,” Edge said.

» The Pirates went into the final with two freshmen and two sophomores who’d never played on such a big game stage, as well as a senior originally from Altha who joined the squad this year without having made it past district play to take the big stage.

» The team could have campaigned for a chartered-bus ride for more comfort on their several-hour trip to Fort Myers, but wanted to ride their school bus, instead. It had taken them on the road to the matches that resulted in regular-season and post-season victories.

A little background on the coachHead coach Heather Edge played volleyball in high school but focused on softball in college. She was coaching that sport at Vernon when that school initiated a volleyball program and asked her to take that on, too. Her courtside manner caught the attention of former Sneads High School volleyball coach Shelia Roberts, who is highly regarded as a volleyball guru across the sport in leading the Pirates to their first five titles in the current string of wins.

When Roberts moved on to coach at Florida High after about 14 years at SHS, she threw Edge in as a potential candidate for the job at Sneads.

“She sent me an e-mail,” Edge recalled. “I didn’t know her very well at all, just by that winning reputation, and I was floored by that email, honestly. I had no idea I was on her radar at all in any way. It was really an honor to even be noticed by her and it means a great deal to me, to try and keep building on that legacy she and all her player created.”

Roberts’ move to the coaching position in Tallahassee (and as the leader of a volleyball academy there) gives her more opportunities to watch her own daughter — a sophomore at FSU and is a team libero — play at home games.

A volleyball dynasty

Emily Glover is a second-year assistant volleyball coach at Sneads High School.

Until last year, her father, Jack Glover, also formally coached the team as an assistant, but left to coach football at Marianna. However, he still lends a hand with the volleyball team.

His youngest daughter, Emily’s sister, Lily, is a freshman that, according to Edge, “plays like a senior.” She served as a team manager as an eighth-grader, then stepped in as a player this year.

Big sister Emily was on the team that won the first, second and third of the seven consecutive titles in the current string of victories. Lacee Glover, middle sister to Emily and Lily, was on the squads that won the third, fourth, fifth and sixth consecutive titles, meaning she and Emily won one together as players.

There’s been at least one Glover on each of the team’s title-winning squads in this string of championships. Lacee now plays volleyball for Shorter University in Rome, Georgia, attending the school on a sports scholarship.

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