Lady Eagles create new standard for program

COVINGTON - Of all the success Eastside athletics has produced this fall, one team has quietly flown under the radar.

For the first time in the program's five-year history, Eastside volleyball has earned a trip to the state tournament.

"We've talked about it and I've explained to them what a stepping stone this is for them as a team, especially for the seniors," Eastside coach Angie Lewis said. "And also for the school because it's the first time we've gotten past the first game in the region (tournament). This is an awesome opportunity for them."

On Saturday, Eastside secured a spot in the Class AAA state tournament after topping Jackson County 25-23, 25-14 during the Area 8-AAA tournament.

Today, No. 4 Eastside will look to extend its season even further against No. 1 Creekview (29-13) at 3 p.m. at Morgan County High School.

"A lot of times volleyball is kind of just forgotten about because it's during the time of football season, so it's nice to bring the team into the light a little bit to where people are starting to take notice," Lewis said.

Overall, the Lady Eagles are 18-23, a vast improvement from one year ago when they won just four matches.

"Last year it got to the point of them just showing up to play and it didn't matter," Lewis said. "They liked to play, but they didn't have that vision to win, the desire to win."

Lewis, who took over the program in 2007, pinpoints this year's success to several factors, beginning with experience and freshman sensation Katie Johnston.

"We have a little more experience than what we've had before," she said. "Our program is still young. Not having any feeder schools, we really start from ninth grade, so to compete with some of these schools that have been playing since the sixth or seventh grade, it's good to be there and play at that level."

And then there's Johnston, who leads the team in aces (85) and kills (105).

"The addition of Katie has been a very good contributing factor," Lewis said.

But it has been a joint effort, as each player has contributed in some way, shape or form, including seniors Gabrielle Parker and Mary Sheets.

"Gabe is my captain, and I've depended on her a lot this year to keep the team where it needs to be, off the floor and when they're on the floor," Lewis said. "She's done a tremendous job, and it's going to be hard to see her go. She tries to pull everybody together all the time. If somebody makes a mistake, she's an encourager, not somebody who's going to bash somebody else."

Parker leads Eastside in digs with more than 100. In addition, she ranks third in kills (57) and fourth in aces (54), proving to be one of the more consistent players on the team.

Sheets, Eastside's starting setter, has been just as reliable. With a team-high 374 assists, she has given the Lady Eagles their wings on the court.

"She can put the sets almost every time where they want them," Lewis said. "As far as the setter goes, it's going to be hard to replace her."

Others providing key contributions are juniors Ashley Aycox, Antonia Mullins and Naomi Wills.

Aycox is third on the team in digs. She also has 20 aces, 22 blocks and 37 kills.

Mullins is a statistician's worst nightmare, filling up the stat book in all categories - aces (60), blocks (59) and kills (72).

And Wills ranks second in aces (79) and digs.

"I'm proud of all of the girls, and I think it couldn't have happened to a better group of girls," Lewis said. "They have set a standard here for volleyball, and I hope they understand the importance of this. To be a part of the state tournament doesn't happen every season. To set an example for teams coming up in the future sets a goal for them to want to be like that team in 2008."

Jason Murdock can be reached at jason.murdock@rockdalecitizen.com.