After two weeks of practice, Port St. Joe's new volleyball coach Lissa Walker summed it up.
"I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people this year," she said. "We’ve got a lot of neat kids out there, a lot of height.”
Originally scheduled to play in the Sneads Pre-Season Classic that began today, Walker said several conflicts caused the team to bow out, and they are focused on the regular season opener at Rutherford this Monday, Aug. 23.
The team still has “so much to learn, (but) we have height (and) we have depth,” Walker said.
Numbers allow her to field varsity, junior varsity, and middle school squads.
“We could be strong with the net play if we can get everything clicking in the right direction,” said the first-year Tiger Shark coach, who moved here from the Birmingham area after a successful 26-year coaching career in Alabama.
Besides working on passing, “which is common for most volleyball teams,” Walker emphasized the need to “finetune the rotation. We’ve got a lot of pieces we can put together, but it’s going to be finding the right pieces to put together.”
While working on the team's volleyball skills, Walker also is working to get the players, following a winless 2020 season, "to believe that we can win
"(We're) fighting the battle that they don’t trust themselves, they don’t (yet) believe in themselves," she said.
“Losing becomes a habit, and I’ve been a part of both teams that haven’t done well and teams that have done really well,” she said. “When you accept losing, it’s hard to get out of that mindset. We’re still learning a lot of lessons about how to do things.”
Walker is heartened about how receptive the players have been to her so far. “They are a great group," she said. "From what I can tell they’re really buying into changes that we’ve made, and they’re really buying into being more positive with each other, more positive about learning from mistakes.”
Since the first day of practice, Walker has added two assistant coaches to help with the more than two dozen players. Celeste Chiles, a former volleyball player while at Port St. Joe High School, Class of 2018, has had limited involvement but “will be with the team more after Labor Day because she’s finishing classes.”
The other addition to the coaching staff is Chili Bailey, most recently assistant coach for the 12-under softball All-Star team.
“She relates to the girls really well,” Walker said. “She knows the girls and they know her. I think I’ve done a good job getting to know the kids and they’re starting to trust me more, but having a familiar face is always positive. She’s been a bonus.”
Walker gave the varsity a day off on Friday, Aug. 13, and because Gulf County schools closed Monday due to Tropical Storm Fred, they had a four-day weekend before a final week of practices to prepare for their season opening foray at Rutherford High on Monday.