Courtesy of Kathy Sheffield

By Robert Wilson

There’s some bad news for Jackson Academy’s volleyball opponents this fall.

The three-time defending MAIS state champion Lady Raiders went undefeated in all their summer league games and went to Samford University team camp and won the tournament against schools from Alabama and Georgia.

Courtesy of Kathy Sheffield

JA has four returning starters – including All-American, Mississippi Gatorade Player of the year and Auburn commitment Lakin Laurendine – from last year’s team, which finished with a 38-8 record and won the MAIS Division I championship. The 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. The Lady Raiders finished ranked No. 1 in Mississippi by Prep Volleyball and No. 9 in South region by USA Today. JA has won seven state titles in the past eight years.

The 6-foot-2 Laurendine, a senior outside hitter, was dominating last season. She had a 43.4 hitting percentage with 509 kills.

This is the third consecutive year JA has won the Mississippi Gatorade Volleyball Player of the Year. JA’s Parker Bracken, now playing beach volleyball at LSU, won two straight years before Laurendine. JA is one of only two schools in the country to win their state’s Gatorade Volleyball Player of the Year for the past three seasons.

Laurendine is rated as one of the Top 23 players in the country in the Class of 2023 by

“Lakin is the full package as a student-athlete,” said JA coach Melissa Denson, who is starting her fifth season as head coach at JA. “She’s a true six rotation outside who can score from anywhere on the court. Lakin is a solid passer and defender. She provides a big block on the net and has the ability to score in almost any situation. Lakin doesn’t make a lot of errors. She hits with so much power but also has the IQ to know when to tip or roll.

“Lakin is a leader and just fun to coach and be around. She brings a certain energy to the court that makes the level of play around her increase. Lakin’s a great teammate. I expect her to have another standout year. Lakin grew a lot in the offseason and worked hard in the weight room to become stronger. She’s going to be fun to watch.”

Courtesy of Kathy Sheffield

The other three returning starters are 6-1 senior setter/right side Mary Grace Foster, 6-1 senior outside hitter Ava Ladner and junior setter Harper Griffin. Foster, Ladner, and Griffin made the All-Class 6A team last season.

Junior Kaylee Lowther, a transfer from MHSAA Class 6A Germantown High, is the scheduled starter at Libero.

Other key players are 6-1 middle blocker Sophie Sosa, 5-10 junior right setter/outside hitter Ava Antonaros, 6-1 eighth-grade right side Carson Caraway and 6-2 senior middle blocker Hannah Towery.

“We are really excited about this upcoming season,”
 Denson said. “The girls have been working hard on the court and in the weight room. We have a mix of returners and newcomers on the court. I’ve been really pleased with how the team chemistry is and how well they’re playing together. I feel like we have yet to figure out what we are a capable of. The depth on the bench this year allows us to run different lineups and have options based on certain matchups.”

JA opens the season Tuesday at Class 6A Presbyterian Christian School in Hattiesburg, plays host to Madison-Ridgeland Academy Thursday at JA and is in the Southern Classic at the new Infinity Volleyball Complex in Ridgeland Friday and Saturday. The Lady Raiders are scheduled to play MSHAA Class 6A teams Clinton, Ocean Springs, Tupelo, Oak Grove, Center Hill and Hancock in regular season matches. JA is also scheduled to play in the Nike Tournament of Champions in Tampa, the Private School Championships at the University of West Georgia and out of state matches against two of the best teams in Tennessee (Houston High) and Louisiana (St. Mary’s Dominican High).