A coach and his girls: LaGrange Academy volleyball has new life under Scott Lewis

Published 8:58 am Saturday, September 9, 2023

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The LaGrange Academy volleyball team continues to make strides. The players that were once eighth graders begging athletic director Charles Parker for a volleyball team are now seniors on their final run.

“We are the seniors that had to beg coach Parker to let us have a team,” Kaitlann Jones said. “We ended up losing every game our eighth grade year, but we just kept going.”

Coach Parker would joke with the girls about their lack of success at first, but even he has been won over by the progress that they have made.

These five girls — Jones, Anna Beth Kinnersley, Laura Knight, Charlsie Reed and Zara Saleem — took a program that was an afterthought to one of the biggest draws at the school.

“Our school definitely backs us up now,” Kinnersley said. “I feel like we have gained a lot of respect from everybody.”

The Warriors program struggled to find its footing in the first two years as girls who did not know how to dig, serve and set had to build skills from scratch.

In stepped coach Scott Lewis in 2022. He has brought a fiery passion to the sidelines.

“We could really start to see our progress last year,” Saleem said. “A lot of that was due to coach Scott.”

The unanimous consensus among the girls is that he is tough but funny.

“He is really hard on us at practice, but once practice is over he is your best friend,” Kinnersley said. 

The bond between players and coach has really developed over the last year and changed. 

“You can tell that he cares about us a lot, because he gets even more excited than we do when we win,” Reed said as the girls shared a laugh. “He will get choked up on the sideline. It’s like having another dad.”

The most important aspect that Lewis brought to the table was structure. He helped give the girls the tools and assets to truly become volleyball players, but he will never take credit for the massive impact he has had on the program.

“99% of our progress is because of coach Scott,” Saleem said. “He would never admit it, but it is because of him. 

“Every time we win he says ‘y’all did this’ and every time we lose he takes the blame.”

With this being their last run, the seniors want to take those tools and be a part of the team that wins the first playoff game in program history.

“We are determined to win a playoff game,” Knight said, laughing. “Last year, our playoff game was in Augusta, and we didn’t know what to expect. We definitely could have beat them, so we want to make at least the second round this year.”

It has been a long volleyball journey for the girls who helped establish the program. They would have never envisioned that the program would grow to the level that it is today.

“After our eighth grade year where we lost every game, we were happy just to win,” Reed said. 

LaGrange Academy is not content with just winning anymore. The team wants to contend with the best of the best.

The Warriors proved how much progress they have made when they topped Oak Mountain earlier this season, their first win over the team in program history.

“We went into that game with our game faces on,” Kinnersley said. “We were ready physically and mentally for that game.”

The team came into the game wanting to deliver a win, but their expectations were not quite so high.

“We came into that game expecting to lose,” Jones said. “We were hopeful. We were not in a bad mood about it, but we did not expect to win in three sets.

“Our hustle was crazy. We were fighting for every ball. Every point mattered.”

Oak Mountain has won two state championships and finished runner-ups in the last three seasons.

“I couldn’t even come into the school the next day after that game without somebody congratulating me,” Jones said. 

The Warriors continue to get better. It helps that the Warriors only lost one senior to graduation — Kayla McBride — from last year’s team and brought in some key new pieces.

“I feel like we have a few great additions to the, like Alivia (Brown), Adelyn (Cadenhead) and Marley (Hand),” Knight said. “They are all coming up and playing essential roles for the team even though they are all younger.”

The bond between this year’s team is the tightest one these seniors have experienced. 

“We have done more outside of volleyball and gotten a lot closer,” Jones said. “We have also gotten a lot closer to our coach.”