By Chris McCarthy
Connie Clark may be a first-year head volleyball coach at Gadsden State, but she is far form a newcomer to the program.
Clark, who took over in mid-July when Angie San-ders resigned, has been the team’s assistant coach for the past 10 seasons, so she sees a very smooth transition to the top position.
“It’s good because I know the ins and outs of how things work,” said Clark, a 1989 West End graduate who teaches at Hokes Bluff Middle School. “But there are some things that I’m still having to learn. It’s been a little hectic over the last month, but things are going well. When Angie was here, I tried to take as much off her as I could, which is good for knowing both the coaching and administrative parts of the job.”
One aspect of the job that Clark must learn on the fly is recruiting.
“That’s one of those things that I’ll have to get a little better at,” she said. “I used to go watch [high school] girls when I had the chance and told Angie who she should be aware of, but Angie did most of the communication with the recruits and their parents. It will be an adjustment and a bit more time on my part.”
The 2015 Lady Cardinals went 28-12 overall and 12-4 in Alabama Co-mmunity College Conference action. Gadsden State lost to Faulkner State in conference tournament se-mifinals.
Six sophomores return from last year, including All-Region 22 outside hitter Summer Hinton.
“Summer does a lot of good things for us,” said Clark. “She’s got a good jump serve, hits well outside and she’s a strong all-around player.”
Also back are middle hitters Jewel Mathis, Tamaria Mays and Jada Carr, setter Jo Lee Dobbs and outside hitter Courtney Rowe.
“Jewel’s come a long way from last year and is really hitting the ball well right now,” said Clark. “She got a good vertical jump and gets above the net, so we’re looking to get some good blocking from her. Jada didn’t see the floor a lot last year, but she might play some right side for us.
“Tamaria played front row last year, but this year I’m looking for her to possibly serve and play some back row. Jo Lee will set from the back row. I hope that Courtney keeps on swinging like she’s been swinging.”
The freshman class features defensive specialists Callie Brewer and Annie Jane Crump, outside hitters Morgan Newton and Ma-dison Shelby, outside hitter/middle blocker Morgan Hudson, setter/outside hitter Savannah Beck, middle blocker Alexandria Vinson and libero/defensive specialist Karagan Timmons.
Clark likes the chemistry she sees between the upperclassmen and newcomers while acknowledging the short amount of time that the players are teammates at the junior college level.
“I’ve done a few things to bring the girls together off the court, but I’m also hoping that my sophomore group will step in and find ways for the team to bond,” she said.
In high school, Clark was a part of four straight state championship teams with the Lady Patriots. After graduating from Jacksonville State, she coached at Alexandria High School, where she won a state title.
In 1998 she moved to West End and coached the volleyball team until 2007, when she joined Sanders at Gadsden State.
The Lady Cardinals’ ACCC competition consists of Wallace-Hanceville, Snead State, Faulkner State, Wallace-Selma, Jeff Davis, Lawson State and Southern Union.
Wallace-Hanceville has won the past seven conference championships.
“[Wallace-Hanceville] is definitely at the top until someone knocks them off but I told the girls that anybody can beat anybody on any given day,” said Clark. “If we can do the little things well and do everything we’re supposed to do, I do think that we can beat anybody in our conference. I told the girls if we work really hard in fundamentals, the rest would come.”
The Lady Cardinals open the season at Lawson State on Sept. 6. The team’s home opener is Sept. 20 against Faulkner State.
Clark will face her former colleague on Sept. 15 at Snead State in Boaz.
“I think Angie will do a good job there,” said Clark. “It will be hard the first time we play each other. But we did face each other as coaches in high school when I was at West End and she was at Southside, so it won’t be a totally new situation.”