September 18, 2014

BY JOHN D. HOMAN
Logan Media Services

CARTERVILLE – No fewer than eight members of the John A. Logan College volleyball team call Southern Illinois home. In fact, six of the eight graduated from a high school within the college district.

The local contingent includes four from Murphysboro (sophomores Audrey Vaughn, Jessica Stanton and Marissa Lies, along with freshman Kierra Nolan); two from Benton (sophomore Morgan Corn and freshman Christy Hayden); one from Carterville (freshman Carly Callahan); and one from Marion (sophomore Erin Dodd).

“It’s not every year that we have the kind of depth of recruiting from the Southern Illinois area that we enjoy now,” said Logan head coach Bill Burnside. “I feel like we got some of the very best players from the region to play for us. We have always had good fortune recruiting Murphysboro kids. Coach (Mike) Layne does such a fine job with the high school program there. And just this year, we established a connection with Benton and Coach (Tony) Phelps, who coaches one of the finer prep programs in the area.”

Burnside said the two former Rangerettes – Corn and Hayden – have been key cogs in the Vols’ machine this fall.

“Morgan is a player I tried to recruit straight out of high school, but she chose to leave the area for a year. We’re glad that she’s back and accepted an offer from us to play,” Burnside said. “Morgan is athletic, a very good jumper, who gets from one job to another quickly. We could play her just about anywhere, but need her in the middle and she has become quite a force at the net. I really like her competitiveness. She doesn’t give up on plays, is efficient in what she does, and is a good influence on her teammates.”

Corn said she is glad she made the decision to transfer from Lincoln Land College to Logan.

“It’s been a great group of girls to play with. We’ve definitely gotten better as the season has progressed,” Corn said. “The competition has been good in practice, and for all the right reasons. I have definitely gained some coordination in my play since high school as I have adjusted to the speed of the college game.”

Corn said she is undecided about her future.

“I would like to play at the next level, but it all depends on what kind of offers I get.”

Burnside said Hayden has a positive attitude that’s hard to match.

“I like her focus and enthusiasm for the game,” Burnside said. “In high school, she was a hitter and a setter. With us, she is a setter only and does a good job of putting our hitters in a good position for the ball. Christy is getting better and better at this skill. She is a starter when we are in 6-2 sets. I can see her improvement as a player virtually every day in practice.”

Hayden said she enjoys the challenge of setting at the collegiate level.

“I’m learning how to do it properly and have gotten some help from our sophomore setter, Megan Martin, who has worked with me on my footwork and squaring up. I still have a lot of room for improvement, though. It helps that we all get along so well. It has made the season a lot of fun.”

Burnside said Vaughn has been a productive player from the outside hitter’s position since she arrived at Logan a year ago.

“What makes Audrey so good is her explosiveness,” Burnside said. “Not everybody can play the outside position. It takes a lot of quick thought patterns and you have to be able to do a little bit of everything – from hitting the ball to defending. Fortunately for us, Audrey has the athleticism to do her job well. She has been a reliable player for us.”

Vaughn said she is pleased with the way the Vols have performed this fall.

“I think we’re meshing as a team quite well,” she said. “As for me, multiple people have said I’m hitting the ball better now than I ever did in high school. I certainly think I’m a more consistent hitter. I have such a passion for the game. I’ve been playing volleyball since the third grade.”

Vaughn, who plans to become a Special Education instructor, said she would like the opportunity to play next fall at a four-year school.

Stanton is a middle hitter for the Vols. Burnside said the sophomore is as steady and reliable as they come.

“Jessica gets up in the air quick and is always in system with us,” he said. “She does a good job of holding the opponent’s best blocker, which allows us a better opportunity to get a kill on offense. She isn’t all that flashy with what she does around the net, but her hitting percentages are good and she continues to work hard.”

Stanton said she has come to like her role as middle hitter.

“I’m definitely able to do more things than I could a year ago,” she said. “I’m excited to see where this team can be by the end of the season. I think that if we communicate well, we can do some good things.”

Stanton said she has not declared a major and has not ruled out the idea of playing volleyball at a four-year school next fall.

Nolan is a freshman middle hitter for Logan. Burnside said the Murphysboro grad has a bright future.

“I think so,” he said. “Kierra is extremely athletic. I haven’t coached many girls who can jump up and grab the basketball rim. That’s unusual for our sport. Because she can get high over the net, Kierra can be a really good blocker for us, and eventually a very good hitter. I like the progress I have seen from her in practice. She is getting better and better every day.”

Nolan said Logan is the right fit for her.

“It’s been great coming here,” she said. “I love the girls on the team and really enjoy playing with them. I have learned a lot from the coaches and am working hard at improving my overall game. It’s kind of cool that there are so many Murphysboro girls on the team. Sometimes, it’s like I’m back in high school.”

Burnside said Lies has been a solid addition.

“Marissa was a good find for us,” he said. “We’re lucky to have her. She is a good defensive player. I particularly like her consistency and experience. She understands her role with the team.”

Lies, who transferred to Logan from Blackhawk East College, said she enjoys playing the game with her new teammates, some of whom are old teammates from high school.

“It’s nice to be reunited with friends,” she said. “This team is more technique oriented than I anticipated, which has made things a little difficult for me at times, but I’m getting there. Any playing time I get I appreciate. I like this team’s potential. We have a lot of talent.”

Lies said she doesn’t expect to continue her volleyball career beyond JALC.

“I think I’m pretty much done after this season, but it’s been a good experience so far. I’m glad to be here.”

Callahan pushed her way into the starting lineup from the earliest practice sessions.

“Carly doesn’t make many mistakes,” Burnside said. “As an outside hitter, you have to do a lot of things, such as being a consistent hitter and digging the ball well on defense. You can’t give away points and Carly doesn’t. She is really growing into the position. I like her consistency.”

Callahan said she has had to work hard at improving her defensive skills.

“It’s about using the right form and it’s been kind of tough at times, but it’s getting better,” she said. “Offensively, I have to work harder at hitting around blocks, which is something I didn’t have to do as much in high school. You also have to make smart decisions out there or you can cost your team points. I think I’m starting to get the hang of things. I wish I could have applied the knowledge I have now last year.”

Whereas it’s the setter that stirs the drink on offense, it’s the libero who makes or breaks the team’s defense. Dodd is developing into a quality defensive specialist for the Vols.

“Erin has been successful for us because she is so quick with her feet and has the ability to read the opposing offense well so that she can get a jump on where the ball is going to go,” Burnside said. “It takes a great deal of focus to be a good defender and Erin has that. When you can control the ball defensively, you put your offense in good position to score. More often than not, Erin gives us a good first pass.”

Dodd said she didn’t enjoy as successful a freshman year as she would have liked because she had to deal with a hand injury. Now completely healed, the sophomore has stepped up her game.

“I put in a lot of hard work this summer to get ready for the season,” she said. “I have really concentrated on angles so that I can put myself in a position to make a play. It’s a hard skill to master, but I think I am doing pretty well.”

Dodd said she would love to continue her volleyball career at a four-year school provided it doesn’t interfere with her pursuit of a nursing degree.

“We’ll see what happens. I would definitely like to play on if I can.”