By Robert Wilson
The Jackson Academy dominance of MAIS volleyball didn’t end when Mississippi Gatorade Player of Year Parker Bracken graduated and took her talents to LSU to play beach volleyball.
JA – led by Clinton High transfer and Auburn commitment Lakin Laurendine – won its third consecutive and seven of the last eight MAIS championship and finished ranked No. 1 in Mississippi by Prep Volleyball and No. 9 in South region by USA Today.
JA finished 38-8 with its only Mississippi losses to MHSAA Class 6A teams Oxford and Ocean Springs, which the Lady Raiders beat later in the season. JA finished 20-0 in conference matches without dropping a set.
“I am extremely proud of my girls for all they accomplished this season,” JA coach Melissa Denson said. “I scheduled one of the hardest and demanding schedules our program has ever had. Outside of conference play, we traveled to the Nike Tournament of Champions, which is an invite only tournament, and played several top ranked teams in the nation. We also hosted the number one team in Louisiana, Dominican, which is a top 50 team in the nation. We defeated all teams that were in MSHAA Class 6A semifinals and finals (Oxford, Brandon, Madison Central and Ocean Springs). We defeated 6A state champion Brandon twice during the regular season. We won the Saints Showdown by defeating Ocean Springs in the championship and we won the Mid-South Classic by defeating Oxford in the championship.
“All of these matches prepared the girls for our state championship. We faced teams that are better than us throughout the season and learned how to face the adversity of a loss, which helped us grow together as a team. This paid off for us.”
JA defeated Hartfield in three sets to win the MAIS Division I championship.
“Winning our third championship in a row was special,” Denson said. “The girls have played well all season, and this was the best way to end a challenging year. I had several players on the court who have never played for a state championship, but I was confident that they were ready because of our challenging schedule and having to battle out two tournament championships.
“I’m extremely proud of the girls for handling this schedule and finishing strong. They represent JA so well on the court, in different sports, and in the classroom. I had two girls win two state championships in the same week. Harper Griffin and Sophie Sosa won soccer and volleyball.”
The 6-foot-2 Laurendine, a junior outside hitter, was named the MAIS Volleyball Player of the Year. Laurendine’s mother, Shawna, is the volleyball coach at Mississippi College and her father, Tommy, is the offensive coordinator on MC’s football staff. She was rated by Maxpreps as the best player in Mississippi and is rated by Prepvolleyball.com as the No. 44 best player in the country. Laurendine was the MVP at Clinton High as an eighth-grader, freshman and sophomore.
Other key players for JA were junior outside hitter Ava Ladner, senior middle blocker Anna Claire Sheffield (a Mississippi College signee), senior libero Remy Jones (a Mississippi College signee), junior setter/right side Mary Grace Foster, sophomore setter Harper Griffin, senior middle blocker Sarah Carnathan (MRA transfer and Austin Peay signee), junior right side Madison Fairley (Desoto Central High transfer), senior defensive specialist and Madison’s sister Lauren Fairley (Desoto Central High transfer) and junior defensive specialist Camille Towery.