Connolly named Coach of the Year
As a senior volleyball player at Mississippi State in 2004, future New Albany coach Ashley Connolly knew she wanted to help grow the sport across the state.
Since graduating from MSU, Connolly has gathered plenty of experience in the coaching business. She’s the coach for the Core Volleyball Club in Tupelo, but she has also made her impact in high school.
Connolly spent six seasons as Ripley’s head coach, then spent three seasons as an assistant coach at Alcorn Central before this season.
In her first year as head coach at New Albany, she led the Lady Bulldogs to a 24-10 record and secured the first trip to the state championship in school history.
On the strength of those accomplishments, Connolly is the 2019 Daily Journal Volleyball Coach of the Year.
“I said my senior year that I wanted to help build volleyball here,” Connolly said. “Now it’s happening and I’m witnessing it and I’m able to help out. Everyone really loves the sport, and I love to see all these girls coming out and playing and having fun.”
Connolly loves coaching, but said the challenge of coaching in high school sticks out above club volleyball. In club, she gets to choose the players she wants, but in high school she has to coach who she has.
At New Albany, Connolly inherited a talented roster that includes first-team All-Area selections Greta Blakemore and Maggie Moore, so her challenge might not have been as tough as others, but she still had to make hard choices.
One of the biggest choices she made was starting a freshman setter, Masey Kate Adams, who ended the season with 807 assists.
“When you get to a place where a lot of starters return, in the players’ heads, they think they should start again,” Connolly said. “I had to tell them that I’m totally different from the previous coach and will play the way I play, and some of you may fit into that mold and some may have to work harder to fit there.”
Those choices and changes helped New Albany get past the second round of the playoffs, where the Lady Bulldogs had lost the last two seasons.
Following a 3-2 division loss to Corinth, the Lady Bulldogs won 10 of their last 12 games, including a 3-1 win at home over Corinth to claim the Division 1-4A championship.
In the playoffs, New Albany swept Pontotoc, Greenwood and Bay, 3-0 each, before falling in the state championship to Vancleave.
“I think coming in and just being a change helped,” Connolly said. “I brought new things to the table that we could work on and fix, and I think that helped a lot getting past the second round.”