Photo by Chris Todd

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By Robert Wilson

The dynasty on Sheffield Drive in Northeast Jackson – the Jackson Academy volleyball team – opened their home season like every MAIS game they have played in since 2020, winning all three sets to take the victory.

Check out this stat: JA won its 22nd consecutive match without losing a set against MAIS opponents Thursday night with its 25-12, 25-18, 25-18 victory over Madison-Ridgeland Academy at JA’s Raiderdome.

JA improved to 2-0 this season. The Lady Raiders defeated Presbyterian Christian School in Hattiesburg Tuesday to open the season.

JA has four returning starters – including 2021 All-American, 2021 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. 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.

JA hasn’t lost a match to a MAIS team since losing to Hartfield Academy during the regular season at Hartfield in 2020. The Lady Raiders haven’t lost a set to a MAIS team since dropping one set to Hartfield in the 2020 state championship match.

The 6-foot-2 Laurendine, a senior outside hitter, was dominating last season with a 43.4 hitting percentage with 509 kills. She is rated as one of the Top 23 players in the country in the Class of 2023 by

Lauderdine led the charge Thursday against MRA, but also had help from 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, and other key players like junior Kaylee Lowther, a transfer from MHSAA Class 6A Germantown High and junior Libero, 6-1 sophomore 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.

JA never trailed in the three sets Thursday, but fifth-year coach Melissa Denson could tell her girls had the first home game jitters early on. JA has not lost a home game to a MAIS team since she arrived at JA in 2018.

“We were a little tense with it being our first home game against MRA,” Denson said. “MRA has improved and put up a good block. We settled in and I think it was a good first home match. I expect my girls to improve as the season goes on.”

MRA dropped to 2-1. Second-year coach Ross Dorr wants to get his team to where Denson and JA are.

“JA has been a perennial powerhouse and MRA is getting to a place where we feel like they have to earn a lot of their points against us now,” said Dorr, who played basketball at MRA, Southern Miss and Delta State and has coached select volleyball for years before taking over at MRA. “They are well coached and very skilled and seem to never run out of offensive and defensive weapons. Our goal is to improve every time we see JA until we finally take a little bit of their success and make it ours. They are the benchmark for what a successful volleyball team looks like, so it always feels like David vs Goliath when you play them. That can be frustrating but I’ve a group of seniors that want to leave a legacy that JA was not unbeatable.”

Dorr returns four starters – senior outside hitter and University of North Florida commit Cameron Humphries, senior middle hitter Samantha Morris, senior middle-outside hitter Emma Gentry and sophomore setter-opposite hitter Fallon Humphries, sister of Cameron. Another up-and-coming player for MRA is 6-5 freshman Alyssa Dampier, daughter of former Lawrence County High, Mississippi State and NBA star Erick Dampier, who is an assistant coach on MRA boys basketball team.

Both JA and MRA are playing the Southern Classic this weekend at the Infinity Volleyball Complex in Ridgeland. JA plays four MHSAA Class 6A teams in pool play, three games Friday against Gulfport at 5 p.m., Desoto Central at 6 p.m. and 2021 6A state semifinalist Madison Central at 7 p.m., and one game Saturday, 2021 6A state semifinalist Ocean Springs at 9 a.m. MRA plays MHSAA Class 6A Pearl High Friday at 6 p.m., 2021 MHSAA Class 3A state runner-up Our Lady Academy Friday at 8 p.m. and MHSAA Class 6A Oak Grove High Saturday at 10 a.m. JA and MRA start bracket play at Saturday at noon.