VOLLEYBALL: Lady Eagles dreaming of championship celebration at home

Mary Ownby, the lone senior on this year's Oakwood Christian squad, will be a source of leadership as the Lady Eagles aim for another SCAA conference championship. / Scott Herpst

Oakwood Christian Academy has always stressed leadership and unity and those two characteristics will be incredibly important for the Lady Eagles’ volleyball program in 2018.

Head coach Celina Green has just one senior on this year’s squad, but a solid mix of experience and youth. She said her team “looked great” in their first match last week, a straight-sets victory over Rhea County Academy.

“We looked better than I thought we were going to look,” she explained. “They really played together well. We also didn't have a lot of substitutions, so they were really able to begin to gel. It was probably the best beginning (to a season) that we've had in awhile.”

Green said that the team’s lone senior, setter Mary Ownby, is a rock for the squad.

“She really leads well,” the coach continued. “Mary has been a part of volleyball at Oakwood for seven years and she is the best example of a leader. She leads by example, but she also leads by her words and she does it in a nice way without being bossy. She knows where everybody should be on the court and she lets you know who is getting the ball. She really communicates well.”

Another strength is along the front row where Green can turn to hitters Charity Bankston, Lily Green and Lexie Asher for kills and defense at the net. Bankston has picked up some height in the offseason and came up with four blocks in the team’s first match.

Bankston and Asher, an outside hitter, are two of the team’s three juniors, along with defensive back row player Layla Rogers.

Green (33 kills) and Asher (52 kills) joined Ownby (18 kills, 11 digs) on the Catoosa-Walker County Dream Team honorable mention list a year ago. They will try and take up the slack left by the graduated Annika Green, another honorable mention pick, who led the team with 74 kills and 36 blocks last season.

Lily Green, along with defensive specialist Olivia Guest, comprise the sophomore class, while the varsity roster is filled out by freshman McKenley Baggett, an outside hitter, and freshman Avery Green, a middle hitter who will back up Ownby at the setter spot.

“We have some really strong hitters that will stay in the game the whole time and our passing has really improved,” Green added.

Emily Shamblin will assist Green and will also coach the OCA Middle School team later in the spring.

The schedule will be a mix of teams from the Southern Christian Athletic Association (SCAA), in which Oakwood has been a charter member since its inception, and the more-established Georgia Independent Christian Athletic Association (GICAA), although Oakwood will play its postseason tournament in the SCAA.

There will be extra incentive for OCA as the SCAA tournament will be held in Chickamauga on the Lady Eagles’ own home floor for the very first time.

“They are really motivated to be able to celebrate a championship at home,” Green added. “If we can stay together and be united, we have the skills to win the tournament this year.

“We’re challenging them this season to make a new start. We have to start new with everything we do. Our work ethic is so good, from the beginning of practice to the end, and they really just seem more unified as a team this year.”