By Gene Phelps
Special to the Gazette
First-year New Albany volleyball coach Ashley Connolly is no stranger to the game.
She grew up in Lafayette, La., where her first volleyball experience was playing in the fourth grade. She competed on the high school level, then played four years for Mississippi State in the SEC.
She comes to New Albany after serving three seasons as an assistant coach at Alcorn Central. Prior to that, she was head coach for six seasons at Ripley.
“I wanted to be a head coach again,” she said. “Volleyball has been more than half of my life. We start playing early in Louisiana. Hopefully, Mississippi will get there. I like the growth I’m seeing around here.”
New Albany’s program has had success in recent seasons. Union County’s four schools – East Union, Ingomar, Myrtle and West Union – are all starting programs.
Connolly replaced Reid Gann, who became the Blue Mountain College coach after leading the Lady Bulldogs to back-to-back division championships and three 20-win seasons. Last season’s team finished 25-5 and reached the second round of the MHSAA Class II state playoffs. This season they will complete in Class 4A.
Two key juniors, Greta Blakemore and Vakeria Jett, return along with seniors Bella Fernando, Maggie Moore and Janae Shackelford.
Connolly has coached a number of the New Albany players in club volleyball with the Tupelo-based Core team. She has been working with the Lady Bulldogs this spring.
“I wanted to work with them and let them get used to me, learn my coaching style,” she said.
Connolly says her style of play focuses on defense, along with serving and passing.
“If you can’t score you can’t keep possession,” she said. “Missing a serve is crucial. We’ll also work on serve-receive, your first contact. We’re going to learn to adjust to become good hitters. Setters aren’t perfect.”
New Albany’s division opponents this season will be Corinth, Ripley, Tishomingo County and North Pontotoc.
“I know all of these coaches pretty well,” Connolly said. “I’m looking forward to it.”