By Chris Whitfield
To hear North Murray High School senior Machaela Bickford talk, you wouldn’t think she was a very good volleyball player.
“I need to work on my timing, on my service and when I pass the ball,” Bickford said. “I will work on my foot placement, my timing on hitting and blocking and the way I hit when I strike with my fist.”
But that just shows her desire to become a more complete player, and she will have a chance to do that at the next level after signing an athletic scholarship with Andrew College on Monday. The school — a Division I member of the National Junior College Athletic Association and Georgia Collegiate Athletic Association — is in Cuthbert, in between Columbus and Albany. The Lady Fighting Tigers, who began competition in 2010, are coached by Edith Smith.
North Murray volleyball coach Connie Hudgins said Bickford is the first player from her program, which began competition in 2009, to be awarded an athletic scholarship.
“She really thrived on getting better,” Hudgins said. “She knew that one game if she messed up, she was working on that before the next game in practice. She didn’t like making mistakes and is always looking to get better.”
At 5 feet, 3 inches, Bickford isn’t a prototypical middle hitter, but she played that position for the Lady Mountaineers.
“She was the shortest, but she had the highest vertical (jump) of any of our players,” Hudgins said. “She had some challenges playing against 6-footers. I know she doesn’t look like a front line player, but playing there made her that much better.”
Bickford is looking forward to taking those experiences to Andrew.
“All of the things that I have learned from my coaches and teammates will help me succeed in college,” Bickford said. “I am very happy and very excited. When I went there and talked to the coach, she told me I had good control of the ball and would be a key player for the team.”
Hudgins is confident Bickford will adapt well to the college game.
“The Andrew coaches have mentioned using her as a middle hitter,” Hudgins said.
“She will not have that much adjusting. She has good control passing the ball, and we used her all the way around the court. She can handle every position. She will not have any trouble getting going.”
Bickford, who is interested in studying nursing, said she was surprised when she was contacted by Andrew officials. Her visit there convinced her it is a good fit.
“I got an email from them and went on their website and looked at their academics and the campus life there,” she said. “I went on a visit and went through their campus. Their curriculum interested me.”
At North Murray, Bickford has already taken pre-nursing classes and plans to get her bachelor’s degree from a four-year program. She also hopes volleyball will be in her future when she’s done at Andrew.
“Absolutely I want to go on to another school and continue playing volleyball,” she said.
Bickford also played for the North Georgia Rage, a travel club. She was a varsity starter her final two years at North Murray, and this past season she helped the Lady Mountaineers go 17-14, finish third in Area 5-3A and reach the state tournament for the first time in program history. North Murray beat Jackson in the opening round of the Class 3A state tournament before losing to eventual semifinalist Woodward Academy.
“She has improved so much over the last two years,” Hudgins said. “For her to earn a scholarship is a great accomplishment. She is just a joy to coach. I have enjoyed every year that I have been with her. She is just a great all-around person.”