It was an odd sight at first: Lindsay Johnson on one side of the net, while the Shaw volleyball team was on the other. As the former Lady Raiders turned Northside coach and her team eased into their first match of the season on Tuesday at Columbus High, however, things became more comfortable.
There were the Lady Patriots ending a long rally with a kill into the corner, Johnson on the sideline giving a fist pump and cheering on her new team. It was, perhaps, an interesting way to get the season starting, facing players she had been coaching just months before, but Johnson said it was a good experience all around.
“Playing Shaw, I still love those kids,” she said. “You get opportunities sometimes in life, and sometimes you have to take them. That’s what happened here at Northside. I didn’t want to leave my girls at Shaw, so it was nice to see them today.”
Johnson, who started leading Northside’s practices on June 1, said she’s still interested in how her old team is doing, but that she’s confident her replacement Julee Fryer will do a great job.
Now, her focus has turned to helping Northside, a participant in the quarterfinals for the first time in school history last year, into an elite program.
“We want to get better,” she said. “I want this to be an elite program. Not just a good team, but an elite program in the state.”
Northside certainly got things started off the right way on Tuesday night, playing three matches and winning two against Shaw (25-12, 25-10) and Northgate (24-26, 25-22, 25-22). It lost in two games to Columbus (25-12, 25-16), but Johnson said she felt her team grew up a lot in he loss.
“I think we grew up a lot in that match,” she said. “I have a lot of sophomores on the floor right now and a freshman outside hitter, so it took some time to get used to the pace of the game. They were a little timid, passive in the Columbus match, but played pretty decent in the second game against them, so I feel like they grew up a ton.”
It’s a fair point, considering Northside dropped the first game to Northgate in its match, but finished off the Lady Vikings with back-to-back 25-22 wins. Northgate had already topped Columbus in two games to open its day.
“Northgate is a good squad,” Johnson said. “I told the team they should have learned that they can play with the best teams in the state after that win.”
The Lady Patriots finished 2-1 on the day, and were led by Carly Smart (47 assists and 13 kills), Lindsay Shirah (3 aces, 16 kills, 15 digs), Katie Jordan (17 kills) and Katelynn Ellis (26 digs). Ariell Owens added eight blocks and Caitlyn Jakes had 11 kills. Their next match comes at 5 p.m. Thursday at home against Shaw and Callaway.
Columbus was also 2-1 on the day, topping Northside, Shaw (25-11, 25-5) and losing to Northgate (25-18, 26-24). Northgate was 2-1 on the day as well. It was led by Natalie Twyford (21 kills, 12 digs), Brianna Gogins (15 kills, 4 blocks, 5 aces, 9 digs), Shardonee Hayes (10 kills, 2 blocks), Madison Fleming (52 assists, 8 kills, 6 digs) and Ki’Anna Duncan (25 digs, 4 aces). The Lady Blue Devils will play Saturday in the State Champions Play Day at Holy Innocents, with the first match to begin at 8 a.m.
Coach Donna Fleming said the team would be looking to limit some of the unforced errors that caused it to lose against Northgate.
“We need to figure out our rotations, have some people step up and cut down on some of the unforced errors,” she said.
Shaw dropped each of its three matches, 25-12 and 25-10 to Northside, 25-11 and 25-7 to Northgate, and 25-11 and 25-5 to Columbus. On the day, it was led by Talie Hammond (8 kills, 24 digs), Kandace Williams (36 digs) and Kayla Bonilla (29 digs). Shaw plays Thursday at Northside.
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571; Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports.