The Riverwood volleyball team won 25 matches and the Region 6AAAAA title and advanced to the semifinals of the Georgia High School Association (GHSA) Class 5A playoffs in 2018. The Raiders are back on the court and have won seven of their first eight contests.
Leading the efforts has been senior outside hitter Kaylah Jackson, who leads the team in kills (55), digs (52) and aces (12). She had a team-high 11 digs and 10 kills for a double-double in the team’s 2-0 victory at Mount Vernon Aug. 20.
“Kaylah continues to be one of the team's most vocal leaders,” said Riverwood head coach Nikia Bynum-Isler, who is also Jackson's mother. “She's a student of the game and shares a wealth of knowledge with her teammates and demonstrates her knowledge when she plays. Kaylah is extremely versatile and cerebral.”
Riverwood graduated four seniors from its 2018 squad, which means increased responsibilities for Jackson on and off the court.
“Everyone believed that was our core group, but we’ve had some girls come up from the junior varsity and ninth-grade team this year that are very athletic and always willing to learn,” she said. “This year we have great chemistry and have a positive group of girls that work hard everyday in practice. When it comes to game time, we have such great chemistry and fight hard for each other. Some days are long but we come back to practice and work to improve so our next match will be successful.”
Jackson has served as a mentor to the younger teammates.
“This is my senior year, so I’m trying to end on a good note,” she said. “There are some girls still trying to learn the game, so I’m trying to be a big sister and help them play at the competitive varsity level. I want to answer their questions and build them up emotionally and physically because sometimes their confidence can be shot.”
Bynum-Isler added that “Kaylah pushes her teammates to be better every play and every day by congratulating them on their successes and holding them accountable. She is mature beyond her years and is a fierce competitor on and off of the court.”
Jackson honed her skills this offseason playing for the renowned A5 South club volleyball team in the summer.
“This was my first year playing at the open level, which is the highest one in club volleyball,” she said. “Training was rigorous and playing at a high level is a learning experience. I watched great players all summer who had already been at the open level and saw how they played to apply it to my play. It made me more of a cerebral player.”
The offseason training has translated to success as a Riverwood player.
“I worked on my consistency and fine tuning certain things like receiving serves, hitting and reading the game,” Jackson said. “I’m mentally and physically preparing myself for the next level. I’m more than a power hitter, I see the court and try to make shots. I look to identify the weaker passers when serving to set up my teammates up.”
Jackson believes that the Raiders are primed to make another run in the postseason.
“I give my all and don’t go by the title of being a captain or senior,” she said. “I want to be a teammate and play every game like its my last. Last year we held each other accountable and were mentally tough. We matured and been so close the past few years. This year we’re trying to make it all the way.
"We’re going to play tough teams that are going to pressure us. We have to learn to fight through that, get a side out and not harp on mistakes and points that we lost before. We've been doing well and this year we can do it. We’re athletic and just have to continue to grow and come together.”
Jackson, the daughter of Jerry Jackson and Bynum-Islar, began playing competitive volleyball at age 10.
“I like the team aspect and being on the floor with people who have the same drive and competitiveness,” she said. “You learn from interacting with each other as people and how to deal with the mental pressure of the sport. Automatically when you face challenges you’re scared and have fear but you have to fight through it “
Playing for her mother has also been a unique experience for Jackson.
“It's actually not that bad,” she said. “She treats me like every other player and pushes me. She’s always been supportive and a great coach. She introduced me to the game and taught me everything that I know. She’s still coaching me everyday and I’m still learning from her. She’s my coach on the court and my mother off the court.”
Jackson, who had a 3.9 grade point average through last semester and lists sports medicine as her favorite class, will be a member of the HOSA - Future Health Professionals organization this academic year and continue her career collegiately at Austin Peay State University.
“The recruiting process was stressful because it's where I’m going to be spending the next four years of my life,” she said. “I talked with my parents and decided on Austin Peay. It was the best decision for me. They have a great volleyball program, strong academically and still close to home. It was the perfect fit for me.”
Riverwood returns to action Aug. 29 at Pace.