With a young and inexperienced roster that featured just three seniors and only two that finished the year on the team, the Junction City Lady Jays finished the 2021 volleyball season with a 9-26 record and was given a 12 seed at substate.
The season ended at substate with a two-set loss to No. 5 Derby, 25-14, 25-15.
Basil Nevill, head coach, said the Lady Jays came a long way this season with the young roster they had.
“Development wise, we definitely across the board were more talented than I feel like we have been in the past,” Nevill said. “In the past, we have had a few good players and then we have had to fill in with some players that maybe struggled a little bit. But, across the board we were better than we have been.”
The lack of double-digit wins was not the success Nevill had in mind for this season, but he is optimistic about the future.
“I think our youth is contributing factors to our record,” Nevill said. “Not being what I had hoped, but I feel in going forward … next year we will have more than three returners on varsity. This year going into next year, as long as nobody moves, we should have eight to 10 returners. Even more promise for next year.”
Neville said the 9-26 record is not the best typical record for Junction City, but it not new to the program. He does claim their record is not a precise indicator of how good the team was overall, though.
“Topeka West was definitely a lot better this year than they have been in the past, and we played them pretty close in our last game,” Nevill said. “This year, I felt like it was the best we have done against Hayden in five or six seasons, and we almost came out with a victory at home. So, I think I would like to see us closer to a .500 record – maybe on the positive side of (.500). I think the way our schedule is built we have the ability to do that. Next year I definitely would predict we will be a plus .500 team with the varsity experience we will bring back.”
Neville said he thought his team members were extremely confident going into substate. Only one player – Ava Deguzman – had experience of playing at substate, which he said made the difference in being swept by No. 5 Derby.
“I think with a more experienced team, we would have come out on top against Derby,” he said. “Age and experience is definitely very hard to replicate. Being it was the first time in a substate game for all but one (player), it definitely is a unique experience. It is kind of a tough thing to do in terms of pressure if you have not played in that type of game before. I think experiencing it definitely allows us to be more competitive in that type of situation next year. I would have rather the game (against Derby) be a little closer, because I don’t think the score reflected how well we matched up against them.”
The Lady Jays have the experience and talent to be optimistic heading into next year, but they are losing two impact seniors: Jada Harris and Jada Nabus.
“Nabus definitely was one of the stronger leads for us,” Nevill said “I feel like the girls looked to her being a senior for guidance in terms of what to do in tough situations. Harris did not play as much, but she definitely fulfilled the leadership role of, ‘Even though I am not playing a lot, I am going to guide my team through what I can.’ (She) definitely brought a lot of energy to the team.”
With a roster that gained a year of development with the most talent Junction City has had in the past – and the experience of substate – Neville is in high spirits about the team he will have next year.
“I am just sad (this season) had to end (because) it felt like we kind of came into our own in the last two weeks of the season, just to where we were finally becoming a team,” Neville said. “We had enough experience under our belt to where we were not worried about going toe-to-toe with anybody. If anything, I am excited to work through our offseason things and keep our team rolling. I can’t wait to get back in the gym next summer – next season is going to be fantastic. I am (excited) that we got as many returning players as we do, because the (greater) challenge (of securing a roster spot) the more work they put in, the better our team is going to be. If (our players) want a spot on next year’s squad, then they need to stay in the gym and keep working and keep getting better.”