Staff Photo: John Bohn Maddie Jones, a senior volleyball player with Providence Christian Academy, has been a varsity player for all four years of her high school career. Jones has 102 varsity wins, more victories than any other Providence athlete.
LILBURN -- After her freshman season on the Providence varsity volleyball team ended, Maddie Jones and her team had a long bus ride home.
The then-Stars had finished the school's most successful season, which she impacted on the court, with a Sweet 16 loss in Savannah. But, even at that age, the season's impact on Jones went deeper.
With a sophomore teammate, Jones made a list of things she wanted to change by the time she was a senior. The list ranged from the silly to the serious. She wanted to sing more and give the freshmen players candy. She also wanted the small Christian school's team to be more God-centered and promised never to bad-mouth her coach to anyone, especially the younger teammates.
"I adored my coach that year. I just adored her and some of the others didn't on the other team," Jones said. "We just came out of it and said, 'If we get a coach that we hate, we are never going to turn to the younger girls.' It tears apart a team so fast."
Then, she got a chance to put her promise to action. Coming off a record-setting season as a junior where Jones set a Providence record with 384 kills and the team returned to the Sweet 16, Jones' head coach since eighth grade, Beth Howd stepped down, putting her in the same shoes as those seniors four years prior -- a new coach in her final season.
"In the beginning (I thought head coach Andy Randrup) was coming up with the JV girls and it was going to be his team and I was just going to be on it for a year until I was done," Jones said. "But he came up to me and basically said, 'I am here and I am glad you are on the team.' He said he is just as much my coach. This wasn't a throwaway year. It meant so much to me. Right then, we started working on our relationship and started getting to know each other."
Then, Jones injured her ankle and missed the first seven matches of the season, spending those games seated next to Randrup as an adjunct assistant coach.
"When I got hurt, I prayed a bunch," Jones said. "A big thing was that Coach Randrup and I's relationship got so strong. We are pretty close and he's taught me a lot. A lot about being a leader."
And Randrup reciprocates the relationship, trusting Jones to make adjustments during matches and listening to her advice between games and during timeouts.
"She is probably the most intelligent volleyball player, she knows what's going on on the other side of the court, our court," Randup said. "During our timeouts it's real insight that she's bringing saying, 'Hey, this is how we need to adjust to what's going on out there.' I love her doing it."
Jones began playing volleyball in fifth grade, crashing a tryout at her neighbor's church. She quit softball shortly after and shunned basketball to start playing volleyball year-round following her freshman year at Providence.
"I didn't realize how much I didn't like basketball until I started playing volleyball. With volleyball, I love going to practice," Jones said. "Every day I would look forward till the school day was over so I could go to practice with my team. And it didn't matter who my team was. It didn't matter if I liked the girls I was playing with. If we were playing volleyball together, that is all I cared about."
Her love for volleyball has changed through the years. She has embraced being a leader, loves coaching others and takes a big-picture view of the season even during her final one. She hearkens back, again, to her first season.
"It's not about volleyball in the end," Jones said. "You can tell with this team because we have bad games, obviously. We come off the court, and I am extremely competitive, I get upset, but then I look at them, especially the younger girls and think, 'In a couple of years, they aren't going to remember our record.' I don't remember our record, but I remember how the girls dealt with me after games and when I played badly.
"That's the biggest difference. Ninth grade was fun and we were good, but now, I still think we are good, it's just not the center of our focus anymore."
Jones isn't certain she wants to play college volleyball, though the sport has opened doors for her. Her 4.0 GPA opens many more.
"For her, volleyball has not been her identity," Randrup said.
During her time on the bench, Jones told the Storm's libero to take a few steps to the side, a small adjustment. On the next play, the ball sailed directly to that spot, setting up the perfect pass. The joy for Jones went beyond her own successes.
"I realized this year that I love leading. I love being a captain," Jones said. "It makes me a lot happier when I give advice and it works out for them than me getting a kill."
Who: Maddie Jones
Favorite TV show: "Friends"
Favorite athlete: Misty May-Treanor
Dream job: High school or junior high school teacher and coach
• Set school record with 384 kills in a season last year
• Averages 3.7 kills per game this season
• Two year team captain and four-year varsity player
• Maintains a 4.0 GPA
• Enjoys reading and favorite books include "The Great Gatsby" and "Gone with the Wind"