TUPELO – Clint Jordan prefers to use a football analogy when he discusses the role Margaret Mary Bridges plays for his Tupelo Lady Wave volleyball team.
Bridges, a 5-foot-7 senior, plays libero, which is a defensive specialist.
“She’s like a free safety who picks every deep ball,” the coach said.
Bridges does lead the state in interceptions, kind of. For a libero, a key statistic is the number of digs averaged per game. Her 5.3 digs average is the state’s best and ranked No. 11 in the nation.
“That’s a great average,” Jordan said. “A 4.2 is a good average.”
A dig is when a player prevents a ball from touching the court following an opponent’s spike or attack.
“I love it when I get under a hard-hit ball,” Bridges said. “I like to dive for the ball and make a good pass.
“I want to save as many balls as I can.”
Bridges played outside hitter on last year’s Class III state championship team, but moved back to libero, a position she played as a sophomore, at Jordan’s request.
It’s a move that gave the Lady Wave immediate – and needed – defensive help and one that will benefit Bridges in the future. Northwest Shoals (Ala.) Community College plans to offer her a scholarship, Jordan said, because of her skills at the position.
“I would definitely be a libero in college because of my height and because it’s my natural position,” she said.
Bridges’ play is one of the reasons Tupelo is off to a 16-1 start despite the lack of playing time by her taller teammates, 6-2 Hannah Farmer (tendinitis) and 6-0 Rachel Farmer (ankle). The injuries have caused the talented sisters to miss a combined 18 games.
“She’s taken over our defense with the Farmers out,” Jordan said. “I moved her to libero because we needed stability back there. She provides more consistency than any player I’ve ever coached.
“She could have stayed outside, but she would have been overlooked (by colleges). As good a hitter as she was, we needed her at libero.”
Bridges spent her summer months attending camps – Christian Brothers University, North Alabama, UAB, Florida and a specialist camp in Hernando – to beef up her defensive skills.
“I love playing,” she said. “When I’m on the court nothing else matters but the game.”
Farmers on the mend
Rachel Farmer has slowly worked her way back into the lineup with Bridges and 6-0 sister Sarah Farmer. Hannah Farmer is expected to return to action soon as the Lady Wave begins its state title defense.
“The pressure’s there, no doubt,” said Bridges, referring to the team’s quest for back-to-back championships. “This is a very strong team, physically and mentally. We’re a hard-working team. We don’t take any team lightly.”
Asked for a scouting report, Bridges said, “We’re pretty balanced. Our defense is outstanding. Camille (Walker), Kristina (Kosogorova), Hannah (Farmer) and Erin (Hadley) are all good passers. You can’t say you’re not a good offensive team when you have the three Farmers.
“If we fight hard and play our game, I can see us winning (state) again.”
Contact Gene Phelps at 678-1593 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal