By Chris Whitfield
There are skills in volleyball that can be seen through statistical measures and analysis — aces, assists, blocks, digs, kills. Assets like heart, experience, leadership and confidence are harder to gauge. With senior setter Jessica Seehorn this season, Christian Heritage got the best of the statistics and even more of the intangibles.
Akin to the quarterback in football, the point guard in basketball and the catcher in baseball or softball, in volleyball the setter is the one player who must be in control of the floor for a team to be successful. She is part defender and part organizer, and she starts the scoring sequences, assisting the team’s big hitters in generating the points needed for victory.
Above all, a setter must be a leader.
Christian Heritage community coach Lisa Donahue believes Seehorn fulfilled that mission, helping lead the Lady Lions to their first appearance in the Georgia High School Association state playoffs. It was their second season of GHSA competition after spending the previous five years in the smaller Georgia Independent School Association.
“For a high school athlete, she has phenomenal knowledge, and she was the leader,” Donahue said. “She pushed herself and everyone else.
“It was like (her teammates) had to step it up, too. They saw how talented she was, but she was also the one who was always working hardest.”
Seehorn helped the Lady Lions go 19-10 and finish fourth in Area 4-A to earn their spot in the Class A state playoffs, where they were swept in the opening round by eventual champion Holy Innocents’. She finished the season with 622 assists, the most among varsity players in Murray and Whitfield counties this year. She also had 73 aces, 72 digs and — perhaps most impressively — 167 kills from a position where scoring isn’t the norm.
For her performance, Seehorn has been named The Daily Citizen’s 2013 All-Area Volleyball Player of the Year. It’s her third straight selection to the newspaper’s all-area team, which this season also includes Christian Heritage’s Savannah Roberson, North Murray’s Grace Phillips, Northwest Whitfield’s Mary Kate Allen and Southeast Whitfield’s Yasmeen Paloblanco and Wendy Perez.
The team was selected by The Daily Citizen’s sports staff based on nominations from local coaches.
Even before her senior season, Seehorn was used to being a leader. She has been playing club volleyball since she was in the eighth grade, which gave her much more year-round experience than most of her teammates at Christian Heritage. She also already knew what it was like to be among the oldest and most experienced players in the lineup.
“We didn’t have any seniors (during the 2012 season), so it was like doing it again,” Seehorn said. “This year, I was going to make it fun. I wanted to set a precedent and make the (younger players) strive to be like us when they are seniors. That was what (fellow senior Savannah Roberson) and I wanted to do. Our goal was to make it more than just volleyball, but more about friends and working hard together.”
The season ended up being a lot more fun in part because of the success the Lady Lions enjoyed. Christian Heritage notched several wins over schools from higher classifications, including local programs Coahulla Creek, Dalton, North Murray and Northwest.
“That was awesome,” Seehorn said. “Not beating Dalton last year, we really went into that with that as a big goal to win that game. We wanted to prove that we were better than the last year. And beating Northwest on senior night was my favorite game of the year. That was a fun game to have as my last (home game).”
Beating local teams was a big point of pride after being told for years that she played for a “second-rate” team.
“It is definitely a different level from the GISA, but the last two years we played with the ‘bigger, better teams,’” she said. “It shows that our school isn’t just a small little private school. We can play with the other teams. We were always the little school in that little GISA league, and now we are playing with the other schools and winning.”
Kim Parsons resigned as Christian Heritage’s head coach following the 2012 season, with Robin Clements taking over the program, but Donahue handled much of the detailed instruction on the court. Donahue, who was formerly a community coach at Dalton High School, played at North Carolina State.
“She had a different aspect and more experience with the game,” Seehorn said of Donahue. “She knew how to coach us up, and her main goal was to make us better as a team. Individually, I felt like I was getting better because the team was getting better. It was all about the team.”
Donahue took note of Seehorn as well.
“I was very impressed with her leadership skills,” Donahue said. “She really takes control of the court and the other players listen to her. Her confidence and understanding of the game is a huge thing. You could tell that she works hard and was good at all aspects of the game.”
It was Seehorn’s presence on the court that impressed Donahue the most.
“She does take over, but she doesn’t do it in a mean, cocky way,” Donahue said. “She can talk to them in huddles and correct things. Usually, you don’t figure that out until college. She just loves the sport and wants to learn constantly.”
College is definitely in Seehorn’s plans. She has been in contact with King University in Bristol, Tenn., and Covenant College in Lookout Mountain with hopes of continuing her time on the court.
“I have always wanted to play college volleyball,” she said. “I started playing club in eighth grade, and once you play club it is really serious. I probably started thinking about playing college volleyball at the end of my freshman year.”
Here’s a look at the rest of The Daily Citizen’s 2013 All-Area Volleyball Team:
• Mary Kate Allen, Northwest: The only underclassman on this year’s team, Allen had a breakout sophomore season for the Lady Bruins. A middle hitter, she finished as the team leader in kills (314) and aces (44) and also led varsity players in Murray and Whitfield counties with 80 blocks. Although her primary sport coming into high school was basketball, Allen’s interest in volleyball is growing and she has good potential that is being realized more and more, Lady Bruins coach Jennifer Quinn said.
“She has definitely matured a lot offensively and defensively,” Quinn said. “She is attempting to play on a club team and the love is growing, which is showing in her ability, too, because she is getting better and better every year. She is very dominant on the net. She is aggressive, and if they pass it to her she is going to put it down.”
This is her first all-area selection after earning honorable mention as a freshman.
• Yasmeen Paloblanco, Southeast: A senior libero, Paloblanco was the top local defensive player and a big part of a team that advanced to the second round of state for the fifth year in a row, with the Lady Raiders topping Fayette County in the opening round of the Class 4A tournament before falling to eventual runner-up Marist.
Paloblanco led players in Murray and Whitfield counties with 346 digs and also had a 93.3 serving percentage with 58 aces. She missed the final six matches of the season with a concussion but still had one of the best years among local players.
“She hustled so much,” first-year Lady Raiders coach Bethany Kenemer said. “Diving on floors, she really played a big role for us on the back row. She was not going to let anything hit the floor because she was giving everything.”
This is Paloblanco’s first appearance in the all-area lineup.
• Wendy Perez, Southeast: A middle hitter who is making her first all-area appearance after earning honorable mention last year, the senior finished this season with 360 kills, 211 digs, 48 blocks and 40 aces.
Showing the expansion of her skills, this was the first year she did not rotate off the court when her position moved to the back row.
“She knew the game a lot better and it picked our whole team up when we were in a spot that was kind of tough,” Kenemer said. “She kind of did everything for us this year. Usually, your middle hitter is the first one you take out because she can’t pass. She could. She really did so much for us.”
• Grace Phillips, North Murray: The only senior on the Lady Mountaineers’ roster, Phillips has been part of North Murray’s program since it first began, when she was in eighth grade and took part in junior varsity matches.
A middle hitter, Phillips finished the season with 360 digs and 63 aces in addition to her 80 kills to earn her first all-area selection.
Her impact on North Murray’s program has been such that Lady Mountaineers coach Connie Hudgins said the team will now call the annual coach’s award the Grace Phillips Award.
“She has never missed a game in her five years,” Hudgins said. “She also won homecoming queen this year. She is honestly an all-around great person and athlete. She was definitely my player of the year.”
• Savannah Roberson, Christian Heritage: The best power hitter in the area, Roberson was the Lady Lions’ go-to scorer this season and Seehorn’s favorite target for passes.
The senior led the area with 386 kills and also had 42 aces playing from the back. With a long wingspan on her 6-foot-1-inch frame, Roberson could deliver punishing kills.
“If we needed a side out, we would feed her the ball no matter if she was on the back row or the front row,” Donahue said. “Other teams really paid attention to where she was and she always got the attention of blockers. She was real intense this year, and she tried to step up a lot. I wish I had her another year, because there is so much potential with her.”
This is the first all-area selection for Roberson, who earned honorable mention as a sophomore.
• Honorable mention: Christian Heritage — Brenna Mugge (Jr., LIB); Coahulla Creek — Macey Fossett (Jr., SET), Gabrielle Henderson (Jr., OH); Dalton — Alejandra Fraire (Sr., MH), Ashleigh Peters (Jr., OH); Murray County — Chassidy Dixon (Sr., MH), Alex Johnson (Jr., SET); North Murray — Harmony Jones (Jr., OH), Erin Robinson (Jr., MH); Northwest — Peyton Maret (So., OH); Southeast — Angie Purkey (So., SET), Serena Ramsey (Sr., OH).