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LaGrange volleyball coach ready for challenge

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

Tejay Dowden is new to the LaGrange High volleyball program, but she’s hardly a stranger to the players.

Since 2016 Dowden has been the head coach of the Gardner Newman Middle School volleyball program, and many of the players she led are now playing the sport at LaGrange High.

Dowden officially became the new LaGrange head coach in January after long-time coach Angie Newton stepped down.

Dowden got a chance to re-connect with the players she’d already coached and meet the players she didn’t know during a meet-and-greet in January.

That meeting, Dowden said, helped ease her mind about taking over the LaGrange program.

“I was a little bit nervous at first,” Dowden said. “When (athletics director Mike Pauley), who is amazing, brought me in for the meet-the-coach night in January and I got to see all my girls, and meet the new girls, I was really excited about getting started. I wasn’t nervous anymore. I thought let’s just pick up where we left off.”

LaGrange’s volleyball team was able to begin its voluntary summer conditioning program on Monday.

Because of the restrictions put in place the team can’t use a ball, and there are two training groups since no more than 20 people, players and coaches included, can be together at once.

“For phase one, we are focusing on agility, footwork, conditioning, working on the court,” Dowden said. “At least we have a volleyball court we can work off of it without a ball. That’ll be the first phase. And then hopefully phase two, we can start putting up equipment, and using balls.”

Dowden is an Iowa native, and she played volleyball in college before making the move to Georgia, and she began her coaching career as an assistant on the Troup High volleyball team in 2014.

After earning a master’s degree from LaGrange College, Dowden began teaching and coaching at Gardner Newman during the 2016-2017 school year.

Now, Dowden has an opportunity be a head coach for the first time.

“I probably would not have done it if it wasn’t for coach Pauley,” Dowden said. “He is super-supportive, and he’ll be there for you and guide you and help you. So he made it really easy.”

Dowden appreciates the positive attitude the players have shown, and she feels they’re all eager to improve.

“They’re excited to learn new things, and they want to learn new plays,” Dowden said. “We can’t do that yet because we can’t use balls, but they’re really excited to be together, and learn to be better. They’re passionate.”

LaGrange will continue its summer program through July 29 when official preseason practice can begin, and the first matches can be played on Aug. 5.