Pearl River prepares for postseason debut

Published 3:00 pm Wednesday, March 31, 2021

POPLARVILLE, Miss. — Over the last two seasons Pearl River’s volleyball program has experienced plenty of firsts as Mississippi’s trailblazing JUCO program.

The Wildcats will experience another first at 5 p.m. Wednesday when they square off against Gadsden State in a play-in match for the Alabama Community Colleges Conference Volleyball Championship. The entire tournament is hosted by Wallace State-Hanceville.

“It has been great to have postseason hopes to work toward, especially with the change to spring making this the longest volleyball season on record,” Pearl River coach Haley Chatham said. “We are at a point where we are proud of the work put in, proud of the fact that we’ve proven to our ourselves an incredible ability to adapt to hard and fast change and proud as a team, that our commitment to the program and to each other withstood a tough climate for athletics during 2020-2021.  

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“Getting a chance to take our efforts and use them to try and break into the ACCC Tournament has everyone excited and thankful.”

Although the Wildcats (13-8 overall) are now entering into win-or-go-home mode, Chatham said preparation won’t change.

“I am a believer in routine for athletes. A routine means they know what to expect and they know what’s expected of them,” Chatham said. “Our goal is always the same: take care of the small stuff, take care of the ball and most importantly, take care of each other.

“We will work to keep that goal in our sights in practice this week and through every match we play.”

The Wildcats have made huge strides in Year 2 of the program, improving their win total to 13 and being competitive in each match.

Former All-ACCC performer and transfer Diamond Jones (Gonzales, La.; East Ascension) has given the Wildcats a jolt as a six-rotation player. Jones’ 5.27 kills-per-set is currently tops in the country. Her 311 total kills are tied for ninth despite playing fewer matches than everyone ahead of her. Additionally, Jones’ 65 total blocks rank 47th nationally.

Additionally, freshman setter Avery Beth Durdin (Olive Branch; Lewisburg) is 12th nationally with a service aces-per-set of 0.56. Teammate and sophomore setter Harleigh Lafontaine (Kiln; Hancock) is 20th with 0.51 aces-per-set.

Having won five of their final six matches, PRCC is playing some of its best volleyball at the perfect time.

“We have really embraced the fact that when you stop playing for yourself and start playing for your team/teammates, magic happens,” Chatham said. “They have committed to do the most for one another on and off the court and that has helped us reach goals that use to seem impossible. 

“They are playing with unity and have come to love celebrating each other’s successes; with that comes great in match connections and a ton of fun volleyball.”

Gadsden State is a familiar foe as PRCC beat them earlier this year, 3-1. The Cardinals enter the tournament with a 6-11 overall record.

“Gadsden has a long-standing volleyball program and produces a consistently solid team,” Chatham said. “A win against them earlier in the season makes no difference when everything is on the line.

“Our goal is to play our best volleyball no matter who is on the other side of the net.” 

Should the Wildcats defeat Gadsden State they’ll qualify for the actual ACCC Volleyball Championship, which is a double-elimination tournament. The Wildcats’ next match would be a quick turnaround against Lawson State at 11 a.m. Thursday.