Jillian Morgan didn’t decide to give volleyball a try until the eighth grade.
Just call her a fast learner.
In three years’ time, Morgan has rocketed from being a wide-eyed newbie on the court to being one of the top players in the area.
This past fall, the 6-foot-1 sophomore middle hitter put her considerable talents on display right from the start and kept up the pace all year long, helping the upstart Lady Ramblers to a 40-13 season and state berth. And today, she earns the title of 2017 Walker County Player of the Year.
“It feels awesome,” Morgan said of the honor. “This year, it was a little difficult coming in as the starting middle hitter since we had a really good player in that spot last year. She left big shoes to fill.”
That player was perennial all-star Karissa Tatum, who went on to sign with Division I Savannah State. However, if Morgan keeps up her current pace, she could find herself joining her former teammate at the highest level of the college game.
Morgan finished the season with 375 kills and 82 aces, which not only lead her team, but the entire county as well. Her 107 blocks were second in all of Walker County and she also was credited with 109 digs. She ended the regular season ranked 25th in the state in total blocks and 29th in the state and total kills.
“Jillian has just improved a ton in the last couple of years,” head coach Chris Logan said. “When she was in eighth grade at LaFayette (Middle School), I watched her play here at the high school one night. Obviously, she was tall, so I thought because of that we might be able to work with her.
“Then she showed up to tryouts as a freshman and it didn’t take me long to realize that she was probably going to end up starting on the varsity.”
An honorable mention pick last year, Logan said Morgan’s potential is just now starting to be tapped.
“She came in this past season from playing club ball and had grown tremendously,” he added. “She’s doing everything she can to get better and she’s still only in her third year, so there is still a newness to it all for her. I think she realizes the potential for a lot of growth is still there if she keeps improving.”
Morgan said she is just starting to begin the recruiting process, but knows she still has plenty of things she can work on to up her game.
“I need to work on my hitting, my blocking and moving between the hits,” she explained. “I’m really excited for next year though. This year was supposed to be a rebuilding year, but for us to win the games that we did, it was a really good year.”
“The biggest thing for her is being vocal,” Logan said. “When you’re a younger player, it’s tough to say things to the older players, but it gets easier when you’re a junior or senior yourself. I think she’ll step up in that way.”
Logan is also excited about the fact that he gets his front row standout back for two more years and believes even bigger things may be on the horizon for the Lady Ramblers.
“We’re losing two good players (in seniors Katie Dixon and Emily Redden), but it’s nice when you can still maintain your core group,” he added. “This past year was good, but I’m really looking forward to getting it going next year.”
Dream Team First Team
Ricki Lynn Bickley (Ringgold, Sr.) - The Catoosa County Player of the Year led Catoosa County in kills (327) and digs (369) and was third in blocks (47), while adding 41 aces. Her .332 hitting percentage put her in the top 30 in all of Georgia.
Kali Brown (Heritage, Jr.) - A consistent performer for the Lady Generals, Brown came through with 236 kills, 195 digs, 40 aces and nine blocks.
Ashley Clinton (Heritage, Sr.) - The setter was a stablizing force for the Class AAAA Sweet 16 participants as she had 595 assists to go with 45 kills, 76 aces, 16 blocks and 114 digs.
Katie Dixon (LaFayette, Sr.) - The outside hitter closed out a stellar prep career with 232 kills, 368 digs and 56 aces in her final season for the Orange-and-Black.
Macey Gregg (LFO, Jr.) - The multi-sport athlete did it all for the Lady Warriors, recording 258 kills, 72 aces, 78 blocks, 93 digs and 80 assists.
Chloe Hall (Ringgold, Sr.) - Another key piece in the Lady Tigers’ area championship puzzle, the senior had 116 kills, 71 aces and 273 digs.
Macy Harris (Heritage, Sr.) - A powerful front line player for the Navy-and-Red, Harris threw down 209 kills, collected 149 digs and had 40 aces.
Jayda Jenkins (Ridgeland, Soph.) - Stepping into a bigger role this season, the sophomore delivered with 212 kills, 57 aces and 82 digs for the Lady Panthers.
Zoie Metcalf (Ringgold, Soph.) - It was a monster year for the second-year standout, who not only had 103 kills, 205 digs and 654 assists, but also led the state in aces (142) during the regular season.
Jillian Morgan (LaFayette, Soph.) - The Walker County Player of the Year led Walker County in aces (82), kills (375) and was second in blocks (107), while adding 109 digs. Her kills and blocks both ranked in the top 30 of the state.
Gracie O’Neal (Gordon Lee, Soph.) - The sophomore continues to prove she can do it all, racking up 201 kills, 265 digs and 56 aces, while simultaneously winning a state championship in cross country.
Emily Redden (LaFayette, Sr.) - Redden had 167 digs, 40 kills and 27 aces, while her 858 assists was tops in both counties and ranked her in the state’s top 20.
Aubree Yancey (Gordon Lee, Sr.) - An outstanding prep career for the Lady Trojans ended with 239 kills, 49 aces and 48 digs, while her 115 blocks ranked 22nd in the state.
Dream Team Second Team
Bailey Tarvin (LaFayette, Jr.)
Summer Fitzpatrick (Gordon Lee, Sr.)
Mallory Collier (Gordon Lee, Soph.)
Rachel Atchley (Ridgeland, Sr.)
Miyah Foster (LFO, Soph.)
Delaney Bridges (Gordon Lee, Jr.)
Symerel Bennett (LFO, Jr.)
Lauren Terrell (Ringgold, Sr.)
Bethany Thomason (Ringgold, Soph.)
Madison Mayberry (Gordon Lee, Soph.)
Ariana Camp (Heritage, Soph.)
Gracie Stier (LaFayette, Soph.)
Dream Team Honorable Mention
Gordon Lee: Maribeth Blaylock, Annie McDaniel
Heritage: Macie Stephens, Maggie Britton, Annie Britton, Kallie Carter
LaFayette: Sarah Ray, Darsey Shields, Blakely Lankford, Michaela Hobbs, Elaina Kirkendoll
LFO: Alesya McBurnett, Madi Graham, Jerriale Jackson, Gracen Hobbs
Oakwood Christian: Annika Green, Lily Green, Lexie Asher, Mary Ownby
Ridgeland: Sarah Williams, Abbi Witherow, Landree Dunn, Tori Elliott
Ringgold: Jasley Brooks, Emily Ridley, Jewel Parham
The Catoosa/Walker County Volleyball Dream Team is selected by Sports Editor Scott Herpst based on performances from the most recent season. Photo and text by Scott Herpst.