Photo by Bill Roseberry
The Alton Redbirds pose with the championship trophy from the Alton Tournament on Sept. 13. It’s been an electric start to the season for AHS.
The Alton Redbirds are creating a buzz on the volleyball court and they’re stoked about it.
Through Wednesday, the Redbirds were perched at 17-1 on the season and 1-0 in the Southwestern Conference with a match Thursday at home against league rival East St. Louis.
It’s a start to a season that has included two tournament championships at AHS in the Redbird Classic on Sept. 6 and the Alton Tournament on Sept. 13. The sizzling start is also highlighted by head coach Stacey Ferguson’s 100th win at the helm of the program and the Redbirds’ first win over conference foe Belleville East since Ferguson started in 2009.
“It’s a little surreal sometimes,” Ferguson said. “I keep thinking, ‘Man, is this really happening?’ But this group of girls has just found a way to pull together and volleyball is a sport that if you have a group of girls that can really work together, are pretty cohesive and all have the same goal in mind, then you get these kind of results.”
Ferguson understands there is a long season ahead of the Birds and the SWC is never a cakewalk. Last season Alton was only 1-6 in the SWC and finished 16-18-1 overall.
“We know that our season is still very tough in front of us,” Ferguson said. “We’re trying to keep a practical perspective on the rest of our season and realize that every game we have to work hard to get better for the next one and not only worry about winning this one, but make sure we’re doing it the right way.”
Senior setter Jordan Nolan hasn’t seen this level of success since she’s been a Redbird. The single season and all-time record holder in assists for Alton has been in the lineup since she was a freshman and only has seen one playoff win over that time in 2012. That win in the postseason was the first for AHS since 1998.
“We’re on a high and I hope we stay on it,” Nolan said. “We have a good outlook on the future of the season. We have good competition coming up and it’s going to show us how we need to act.
“We want to be confident, but we don’t want to be cocky. We know it’s going to be tough and we’re going to have to fight for every point. We’re just going to have to be strong out there. It’s going to be tough.”
Nolan is joined by a solid senior group with 5-foot-8 outside hitter Megan Paulda, 5-10 middle hitter Rachel Cauley and defensive specialists 5-3 Rachel Bridges and 5-5 Shannon Farrell. Junior outside hitter Jada Green, 5-11; and 5-7 sophomore middle hitter Savannah Fisher also have been very good, as well as 5-9 junior Kailin Haug and 5-6 junior Olivia Cauley.
Nolan was named the MVP of both the Redbird Classic and Alton Tournament, while Paulda and Green were all-tournament selections.
Wins in the tournaments have come against smaller schools like Carrollton, Roxana, Jersey, Gillespie, Civic Memorial and others and Ferguson is aware of the perception associated with those victories. That’s why the stock in the straight-set win over the Lancers on the road to open the SWC carries a lot of weight.
“That was a big confidence booster for the girls,” Ferguson said. “We always say, ‘We can, we can, we can.’ And this time we did it. That’s one and we have the rest of our conference to go, but I think we finally realized in our hearts and our minds we can actually do it now and to get my 100th win on that, I’ll take it.
“Not to discredit any of our other wins, but that one over (East) I kept telling myself — and never told the girls — that right there solidifies what we’ve been doing. We get a lot of flack, ‘Oh, you’re a bigger school; you should be beating this team.’ “Volleyball isn’t like that. Calhoun (the only team to beat Alton in 2014) is a prime example. They are a small school and they are a very good club and they’ve been very good for years. Size of school doesn’t always matter, but (beating East) solidified it to them, to our community that, ‘You know what, we’re for real. We did go in there and beat Belleville.’ And that was big time for us.”
The Redbirds are back on the court against Southwestern at 5:45 p.m. Monday and then at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday against Collinsville in SWC action. Both matches are at AHS.