May 6, 2014

No shortage of highlights this year for Phillips

CHATSWORTH — When Grace Phillips finished posing for photos of her signing a volleyball scholarship with Andrew College on Monday in North Murray High School’s library, a crowd of supporters gathered for the ceremony put their hands together.

It wasn’t the first time she’d heard applause during a memorable and achievement-filled senior year.

Phillips — who was chosen the school’s homecoming queen, prom queen and Miss North Murray during the 2013-14 school year — is leaving enough of a legacy on the volleyball court at North Murray that Lady Mountaineers coach Connie Hudgins decided to name the team’s MVP award in her honor for future seasons. As for Phillips, who also played basketball at North Murray, she will turn her attention to making an impact at Andrew College, a two-year school in Cuthbert, about an hour south of Columbus.

Phillips is also involved in student council and one of just three National Society of High School Scholars at North Murray. Monday’s recognition was much like the other honors she’s received during the past few months.

“This year has been crazy rewarding,” Phillips said. “... All the work you put into yourself and how you treat others pays off in the end.”

A 5-foot-9 middle hitter, Phillips was a member of The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Volleyball Team this past season, when she finished with 360 digs, 80 kills and 63 aces in 47 matches. While the Lady Mountaineers missed the Class 3A state tournament in 2013, Phillips helped lead them to their first state berth during her junior season, when they won in the opening round before losing to eventual state semifinalist Woodward Academy.

Phillips spent five years with North Murray’s volleyball program, playing junior varsity — as permitted by Georgia High School Association rules — while still an eighth-grader at Bagley Middle School before becoming a varsity contributor as an underclassman.

That gave her plenty of time to develop as a middle hitter/blocker, which isn’t an easy place to learn the game, Andrew College coach Donna Rountree said. That made Phillips’ ability to excel there all the more impressive.

“Middles are harder to come by,” Rountree said. “On top of that, she’s a skilled middle.”

Rountree, who singled out Phillips’ blocking skill, court vision and ability to hit the ball to multiple spots, found Phillips thanks to Machaela Bickford, a former Lady Mountaineer now playing for the Fighting Tigers. When Phillips decided she was interested in playing college volleyball, she contacted Bickford for advice and that led to a tryout at Andrew, which began its volleyball program in 2010.

The Fighting Tigers won two matches last season, their first under Rountree. As Georgia’s only junior college with a women’s volleyball program, Rountree said most of Andrew’s competition is against Alabama and Florida programs, and the Fighting Tigers’ advancement to postseason national competition is through Alabama’s junior college conference.

Although Phillips was also a major contributor for the Lady Mountaineers in basketball, earning all-area honorable mention this past season, she said greater confidence in her volleyball skills has allowed her to be more aggressive in that sport. That confidence also helped her be a leader as the lone senior on North Murray’s volleyball roster in 2013.

But Phillips’ talent made it natural — and wise — for the Lady Mountaineers to listen to her.

“Her leadership has been big,” Hudgins said. “She’s been a huge role model for the other girls. They all look up to her and they want to be like her. She’s just very talented overall — offense, defense — she works really hard and is dedicated. If other girls aren’t doing what they need to do, she’ll speak and tell them, ‘Let’s go.’”

Phillips, who wants to study business administration, said she’ll work to remain dedicated to all phases of being a student-athlete even as she moves up to a higher level of challenges in the classroom and on the court.

“When you get to college that first year, it’s going to be rough,” she said. “Staying committed to workouts and the team and academically (is important).”

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