Thomas Jefferson volleyball feeling just ducky heading into playoffs
It's not hard to see what pushes the Thomas Jefferson girls' volleyball team this season.
A quick look at the results from the 2011 WPIAL Class AA playoff bracket and a glance at a 3-0 first-round loss to runner-up Freeport is enough.
“It's probably been one of the biggest motivation drivers of the season,” said senior right-side hitter Jesse Hinkle, one of only two senior starters. “It was so difficult to do so well and fall short so early, so that is definitely a motivator for us.”
Superstition also has made a push into the Thomas Jefferson locker room. Before each game, the players touch a little rubber duck for luck. They even have had shirts made to commemorate the ritual.
Whether the players truly believe in duck power, it seems to be working. Thomas Jefferson has vaulted to an 8-0 record and first place in Section 7-AA.
The Jaguars also have clinched a spot in the WPIAL playoffs and will have an opportunity to capture the outright section title Thursday when they play second-place Elizabeth Forward. But that doesn't mean the Jaguars are where they should be heading into the playoffs.
“Three weeks ago, I think we were playing better than we are right now, and I thought that we would be a step or two forward, but we've just kind of flattened out a little bit,” Thomas Jefferson coach Ron Kelly said. “Early in the season, we were obviously playing well, and Thursday we have Elizabeth Forward, and that's the biggest game we have left, so we're focusing on that.”
Although winning the outright section title is important, the players are focused on advancing further in the playoffs than a pigtail victory against Uniontown followed by a hasty first-round exit. None of them want to relive that feeling.
“What we're trying to do to correct that is just to focus on our dream … because even if we lose and we play our best, we won't be disappointed,” starting senior defensive specialist Ashley Kohley said.
Perhaps the toughest thing for Thomas Jefferson as it attempts to win its first WPIAL title since 2001 is to prove it doesn't play in a weak section. In addition to the Jaguars' early exit last year, Elizabeth Forward was knocked out in the first round and Steel Valley was ousted in a pigtail match.
“We're still meshing together. They're still learning, but we've had a set lineup for about the last couple weeks,” Kelly said. “It's just getting it all together.”
Keith Barnes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-664-9161 Ext. 1977.