Hitter and setter MacKenzie Harris is the only player who has been part of the Silverdale Baptist Academy volleyball program the last four years. And as a result, she has become part teammate, part counselor and part role model.
But she's all player.
The 5-foot-7 senior and her Lady Seahawks teammates have gotten off to a rocky start in 2013, entering the weekend's 27th Choo Choo Classic tournament with an overall record of 3-6. But they are 2-0 so far in District 5-A.
Blessed Trinity from Atlanta beat Ooltewah 2-0 (25-20, 25-21) in the Choo Choo tournament's Gold bracket final Saturday night at East Ridge. Knoxville Grace Christian was the Silver champion with a 2-0 victory over Signal Mountain at Red Bank.
Harris got started in Silverdale's volleyball program in sixth grade.
"At the time I was playing three sports, but I ended up dropping the other two after sixth grade," said Harris, who used to play basketball and softball. "I realized volleyball was my best sport, and I just wanted to focus on one sport and get better at it."
Harris leads the Lady Seahawks in kills and is also one of their best servers in addition to helping with setting. She knows she's counted on to contribute in several areas statistically. And she shoulders a heavy leadership burden.
Bri Leffew is another senior on Silverdale's team but hasn't played volleyball since her freshman year. Kerri Whittaker was a junior libero on last year's team but since then moved with her family to Huntsville, Ala. Molly Rumfelt is the only junior on the team, and she missed all of last season with a shoulder injury.
First-year coach Lisa Davis wasn't hired until midsummer, so the Lady Seahawks were behind other TSSAA programs getting started with preseason activities. Davis has depended on her for so much in her short time on the job, she can't distiguish which is more valuable -- Harris's leadership or production. The coach said she'd love to see her play somewhere in college because she knows it's so important to her.
"It's an honor to be in her world," Davis said. "She'll do anything you ask. No questions; no attitude; nothing. Her presence makes the others play with more confidence because they look up to her so much. However, I can't imagine not having her out there skill-wise. She's aggressive. She's encouraging. She's mentoring. She's a coach's dream."
The Lady Seahawks' early-season growing pains included going 0-5 in Hixson's tournament last weekend. Harris said communicating better is something the team needs to address. She agreed with Davis that finishing sets when they get a lead is crucial moving forward.
"We all talked after the tournament," Harris said. "We weren't playing as a team. We were playing as individuals. We didn't connect on the court near as much as we could. We started off bad and finished bad."
Silverdale's program has been on an upswing. Under coach Rhonda Hawkins, the Lady Seahawks were district regular-season co-champions with Boyd-Buchanan each of the last two years and advanced to the Region 3 tournament for the first time last year.
Harris wants to take them back.
"Losing five starters is kind of discouraging," Harris said. "I'm just hoping for this season we all play our best, no matter what. I think we can compete with anybody in our district. I think we can win our district and make it to the region tournament -- hopefully."
Contact Kelley Smiddie at email@example.com or 423-757-6653. Follow him at twitter.com/KelleySmiddie.
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.