COVINGTON, Ga. — When Maggie Johnston thinks about the mixed bag of results from Eastside’s 2017 volleyball season, she does what most good coaches do.
She passed along credit for success to her players, and took on her own fair share of blame for any challenges or shortcomings.
To be sure, the Lady Eagles’ 2017 campaign wasn’t a wash by any stretch. Eastside finished with a 22-10 record and a 7-1 mark in Region 4-AAAA which was second in the region behind Woodward Academy.
Eastside also advanced to the Class AAAA state tournament last year, falling narrowly to Perry 3-2 in the first round. And therein is where Johnston begins to evaluate herself.
“I definitely think we had a good season last year,” Johnston said. “But I think I learned a hard lesson last year in putting too much pressure on the playoffs. I was saying, ‘Hey, we have to show up this day, and show up for this game,’ and I learned my lesson to just treat every game the same, come out firing every game, whether it’s a lower opponent or a region game or state playoffs. I want to instill this year that each game is important, to go hard and fight for every point.”
When taking a peak at last year’s roster, it could be easy to see where some of that pressure to perform came from. Eastside graduated four seniors last year, including two-time first-team All-Region performer Chasity Smith.
Smith signed a scholarship offer to Lawson State after a senior season where she recorded 215 kills and finished with a .193 hitting percentage. She averaged almost four kills per set and dished out 145 assists.
She was the kind of player on the type of team that seemed primed for a deep state tournament run. But after being ousted in the first round, Johnston said the mentality shift began.
This year, although a player like Smith is gone, she relishes the notion that the absence of a clear-cut star could actually help improve the collective.
“I’m actually excited about having a lot of good players, and not just one who super, super stands out,” Johnston said. “I think it’ll help with the attitude and effort of the overall team. The gaps I’m not worried about. We’ve got a lot of hungry players who are competing for spots.”
So much so that Johnston said she had to issue out a warning for a couple of her program’s more seasoned players.
“We had a couple of seniors who decided not to show up for some workouts over the summer, and I told them they can’t afford to do that,” she said. “Because there are two or three younger players pushing to take your spot.”
One of those younger players is sophomore outside hitter, Taylor Adams. Adams joined the varsity squad as a freshman last season, but refined her game during the offseason with her club team, Tsunami. Now, Johnston is calling Adams a potential go-to player.
“It’s pretty good to hear that from your coach,” Adams said. “And I’m excited, really for the next couple of years. I’m looking forward to getting into it and being with the team, and I think we’ve got a chance to be really good.”
Adams’ sentiments are shared by senior outside player Lillian Fowler. If there is a player who’s 2017 production could be a sign of 2018 success, it could be Fowler who registered 100 kills last year and 48 serving aces.
She’s also taking on the senior leadership role, as she could be heard during a recent practice vocally picking up her teammates and pushing younger players.
“I feel like being a senior, I kind of need to take charge more and be more encouraging to everyone,” Fowler said. “I’m really excited for this last year playing here, and I think we have a really good group of girls who can have a great season and go really far.”
Beyond Adams and Fowler, Johnston said she’s looking forward to seeing the improvement of several players who’ve invested time into club volleyball during the offseason. Amber Dawson and Chatera Montgomery are a couple of players Johnston says have gotten much better since last year.
Potential setters Ashara Whaley, Addie Walters and Madison Spigner will also be counted on for 2018 impact.
But even more than any wins and losses goals or postseason aspirations, Johnston said she wants to refocus her program on an ingredient to success that can’t be quantified in the stat book.
“I just want us to have fun again,” she said. “There were times where I looked out there (last year) and they weren’t having any fun. Winning can be fun, but also a part of it is where we realize that that particular point is over and it’s time to move on. I want them to be relentless and go after everything, play like their last point and just show up and show out. I’m not saying we’re gonna wine lot or not win a lot. But they’ll show up and play hard until the game is over.
“And if I look out there and see they’re enjoying themselves, talking and discussing the game they love, then I’ll know they’re not too much in their heads. I just want to see the love of the game showing through them.”