In 2020, Jordan-Matthews volleyball is embracing the present and preparing for the future

BY CHAPEL FOWLER, News + Record Staff
Posted 12/18/20

SILER CITY — Tuesday was senior night for the Jordan-Matthews volleyball team. It was also, incidentally, a prime example of the youth movement the Jets are embracing this season.

In the …

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In 2020, Jordan-Matthews volleyball is embracing the present and preparing for the future

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SILER CITY — Tuesday was senior night for the Jordan-Matthews volleyball team. It was also, incidentally, a prime example of the youth movement the Jets are embracing this season.

In the brief ceremony at Justice Gymnasium, there was exactly one handmade posterboard sign, one bouquet of blue and yellow flowers and one senior to honor while the rest of the team — two juniors, two sophomores and four freshmen — cheered on teammate Eve Long from a socially distant bench.

“It felt weird,” Long later admitted. “Since I was a freshman, there’d always been, like, four seniors.”

But a young team is better than no team. And as Jordan-Matthews works its way through a 2020 season already significantly altered by the coronavirus pandemic, head coach Taylor Crowder, outside hitter Long and the rest of the Jets are taking their slip-ups in stride, knowing there may be better days ahead.

“I think we've really progressed every single time,” freshman middle hitter Reagan Smith said.

That’s a much-needed attitude when it comes to J-M volleyball, which Long described frankly as “a program that hasn’t won much.” Crowder, who’s in her first year as head coach, agreed: an overnight rebuild wasn’t realistic. She compared the Jets’ current situation to that of the Carolina Panthers.

“We’re kind of like them and their season,” Crowder said. “It’s a growing year.”

That year started with COVID-19, which forced Jordan-Matthews (plus just about every other sports team at any level in the country) to drastically alter its schedule. When the Jets began offseason skill sessions in October, they served as much as a meet-and-greet as they did an actual workout.

Long, for example, had never shared a court in an official capacity with half of her teammates before last month’s season opener at Trinity. And the Jets’ four freshmen were coming off a lengthy layoff, as their 8th grade spring volleyball season at Chatham Middle was canceled in reaction to the pandemic.

That’s led to some communication issues Jordan-Matthews is still trying to hash out.

“It’s been really difficult,” Long said, “because, normally, we would’ve started in June, and by now we would’ve known each other’s weaknesses and could help each other out ... It’s set us back a lot more. We haven’t had time to fully adapt to each other.”

Added Crowder: “We’ve got to trust each other on the court and off the court. That’s something they’re learning as they mature: varsity volleyball’s a lot different than JV or middle school volleyball. I think trust goes a long way for a team — more than anything else.”

Growing pains have been evident. Jordan-Matthews is 2-5 overall and in conference play after dropping three matches this week, including a 3-0 home loss to Eastern Randolph on Tuesday. Outside of trust and communication, Crowder said, she’s also pushing her players to be more consistent with serves.

Still, there’s been progress.

After falling behind 10-1 in Tuesday’s first set against Eastern Randolph, Jordan-Matthews rallied back to trail just 14-10. The Jets were within 14-10 in the second set, too, and 18-13 in third, ensuring the Wildcats’ 25-14, 25-17, 25-16 sweep didn’t come in total blowout fashion.

While there were some errors — missed serves, balls dropping dead between two players after miscommunication — there were aces, long rallies and hustle plays, too, from Jordan-Matthews players such as Long, Smith, sophomore outside hitter Brenley Rivers and freshman setter Janeyra Guerrero.

And earlier Tuesday night, the Jordan-Matthews JV team — coached by Danielle Campbell, Crowder’s assistant — won its first match of the season (a three-set thriller) against Eastern Randolph’s JV squad.

Moments like those keep Crowder confident in how her team’s developing. Coincidentally, she’s already invested a lot in the Jets, having coached every single varsity player outside of Long and junior libero Erin Maddox at Chatham Middle in Siler City. She’s coached most of the JV team in the past, too.

“In the next three or four years,” Crowder said, “we’re going to be a totally different team.”

The only unintended downside of that long-term outlook? Long, who graduates in the spring and will study nursing at UNC-Greensboro, won’t be on the team to watch it happen.

So, here’s her adjusted plan: take the 2020 season match by match, soak in every moment like it’s her last and come back in 2021, as a fan, to see the Jets and “all their progress,” she said.

“We’re not there yet,” Long said, “but we’re getting there.”

Reporter Chapel Fowler can be reached at cfowler@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @chapelfowler.

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