In only its sixth year, and still seeking its first winning season, the Lady Eagles (11-4) are have already beaten 2012 Class AAAAAA playoff teams — Hillgrove and McEachern — as well as traditionally strong programs from Class AAAAA — Northview and Allatoona.
Its losses coming to Class AA defending state champion Lovett, Class AAA state runner-up St. Pius X, and playoff teams Lassiter and River Ridge.
The Lady Eagles are mostly a short and scrappy bunch. They have just one 6-footer in Caroline Cook and their leading hitter Melissa Morris is listed at 5-3. But they can make a serious case for being one of the more conditioned teams in the state, and one of the more consistent when it comes to limiting errors.
“My theory is, the shorter you are, the better ball control you have,” Mount Paran coach Selina O’Leary said.
However, nine of 11 wins this season have come against bigger schools and seven of their 11 wins have come down to the final set. One of their more emotional marathon victories came against Northview where Morris served back-to-back aces to beat Northview 25-14, 23-25, 27-25.
Morris is currently leading with 88 kills. Knowing she’s not tall enough to smack the ball downward, she looks for the open areas and places the ball in that direction.
She also leads with 37 service aces and is second in digs with 144 behind 5-2 Asher Ward, who has 219.
“I think a big part of it is that we have girls on the team who have wanted us to be a successful program since the sixth grade, and we’re finally there,” O’Leary said. “They are so determined when it comes to finishing. We do lots of drills at practice where we start with the score at 22-22 and you have to try to finish the end of the game.”
That’s where the grit comes from, but the fact that the Eagles don’t make many careless errors also plays a role.
O’Leary, who played libero at Kennesaw State from 2006-2009, takes that area of the game seriously. Passing drills play a major part at practice every day and said if the ball hits the floor before it goes over the net, all players are required to stop and roll.
“Sometimes we roll 15 times and other times it depends on the practice,” Morris said.
Apparently the Lady Eagles don’t enjoy having to stop and roll. They only have 12 passing errors in 15 matches this season. They often have two setters on court at once with Sydney Murphy and Alex Konieczny providing the assists, combing for 276 assists.
When O’Leary inherited the team in 2011, it was mostly freshmen and sophomores who have grown into their roles. Now, players in the program are playing club volleyball during the offseason, and it doesn’t hurt that the Lady Eagles didn’t lose anyone from last year’s team.
If there’s an area the Lady Eagles need to improve before Area 4A play begins today against Darlington and Gordon Lee at Darlington, it’s playing strong from start to finish, which could help them win games quicker and shorten their matches.
They’re known to go into second set lulls after winning the first.
“We can’t do that once we get into area play,” O’Leary said.