Ole Brook Panthers growing in skill, enthusiasm

Published 5:16 pm Wednesday, July 13, 2022

BROOKHAVEN — Head Coach Charlton Grey jumped up and down as he spoke to his players about staying positive and energetic at practice Tuesday. Brookhaven is in year two of the program and their play is starting to take better shape. 

Volleyball is a technical game with a tougher learning curve than other sports like basketball. Ole Brook’s Lady Panthers are starting to get a hold of things. This growth is encouraging to Gray who is excited about their improved serve game, sets and passes have gotten better. 

The team is developing a continuity with their game, he said. Over the summer, they went to a volleyball camp held at Jackson State University and they plan to go watch Southern Miss and Jackson State play this volleyball season. 

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“We want to see a continuity of learning and consistent striving. They have to see it to get the visualization they can do,” Grey said. “It is the best way we will grow.” 

Some of this growth is a result of hard work outside of Brookhaven’s gym. Senior Kaniya McDaniel said she worked on her serves and saw the most improvement there. Her reception has been better. 

She said her sisters and mom would toss a volleyball as high as they could and she would try to receive it. Fellow senior Leslie Williamson saw growth in serving and in other areas. 

“I grew two inches,” she said. “I also practiced my serve every day I could. My dad set up a ladder and put it beside a shed. He put another ladder up against the shed and measured it so it would be the height of a volleyball net. For a few days a week I would practice trying to get my routine right. I kept practicing until I got the ball over consistently.” 

There are five seniors on Brookhaven’s squad. McDaniel, Williamson, Leah Wilcher, Raven Smith and Makayla Robinson. They joined the program in its inaugural year and are preparing for their second and final season. 

Wilcher said she joined the team because she is a people person. She takes any chance she can to be active and be with friends. Smith said she stuck with volleyball simply because she enjoys hustling and diving for balls. 

“You get to dive on the floor and I love diving on the floor, or in the bleachers. Wherever the ball goes I’ll go get the ball,” Smith said. “I love the game and I love to hustle. I will get any ball that will go in the bleachers or the stands no matter what.” 

Her enthusiasm for the game of volleyball reflects the same positive attitude her coach has. Gray is challenging his players to be positive in the classroom, in the gym and out in the community. 

His program needs to keep a positive upbeat attitude this season. Last year, they stayed upbeat because the game was new even as the team lost 11 games. He said this year is the year they turn the corner. 

“We want victories and they will come in small increments,” he said. 

Brookhaven’s positive culture is taking root in the seniors. 

“This year I have a more positive attitude. We have grown so much and I look forward to a more positive outcome,” Wilcher said. “All of us have grown a lot. As seniors, we are trying to take a leadership role and set a good example.” 

Williamson said as seniors they want to win, do things the right way and have fun. 

Brookhaven’s first game of the season is on August 9, 2022 at West Marion. Time is starting to tick away on the senior’s clocks. McDaniel said she feels emotional because it is their final year with the program. 

“We have a lot of weight on us from last year, it will be crunch time,” she said. “We have a lot of responsibility. We can do a lot but we have to put the work in.”