Reservoir cogs

Seniors Rachel Burke and Jamie Thomas have helped lift the Gators to prominence in their school and beyond


October 25, 2006|By Alejandro Danois | Alejandro Danois,Special to The Sun

Reservoir senior outside hitters Jamie Thomas and Rachel Burke have led the surprising Gators to an impressive run through the volleyball season.

At the beginning of the season, a lot was not expected from Reservoir, which lost four seniors from a team that finished 10-5 and was eliminated in the regional semifinals last season.

This year, the Gators, with their only loss to top-ranked Centennial, have galvanized the school. With each victory, Reservoir continues to climb up the rankings and show itself as a legitimate championship contender.

"This season has been amazing," said Reservoir coach Carol Ferrante. "We have 11 girls who are contributing to our success, we're clicking on all levels and Jamie and Rachel are leading the way."

Thomas is a skilled defensive player and strong hitter with an array of shots. Burke, who is also a talented defender, delivers a variety of befuddling serves, including a jump serve with great topspin, a cut serve and a float jump serve. Against Wilde Lake, Burke served for 31 of her team's points.

Burke, Thomas and their teammates There are relentless in keeping the ball in play.

The Gators' desire was on display during Reservoir's three-set victory against Glenelg earlier this season. In one sequence, setter Jaime Huffman dove for a ball that was tipped over the net. Getting her hands under the ball, she popped it up 2 feet in the air. Just as the ball was about to hit Huffman in the back, Burke dove on top of her and sent a perfect set pass to Thomas, who shot it over the net for a kill.

Thomas had 11 kills against Glenelg but was not satisfied, even though the defense ran a triple block against her at every opportunity.

"They don't give up and [they] push the other girls to play up to their level," Ferrante said. "Jamie has a tremendous desire to be the best, and Rachel is a ball of energy. She's the first one in the gym, the last one out and gets everybody focused."

During their sophomore year, the two shared the court during a thrilling regional final won by Reservoir in five sets. But Burke was playing for Atholton, which had won the first two sets.

Last year, Burke called Thomas at home before fall classes began. She said she would be transferring to Reservoir for her junior and senior years.

"How's the team going to be this year?" Burke recalled asking. "Do you think they could use my position?"

"You'll be the one piece we're missing," Thomas said.

Ferrante, who had just become head coach, was approached by Burke on the first day of tryouts.

"She told me that she was a Gator now and would do everything she could to help the team," Ferrante said.

An assistant coach, familiar with Burke's style of play from coaching against her, was vehement in telling Ferrante, "You want this girl to play for you!"

This season, Burke, Thomas and the rest of the volleyball team are the rave of the school. The gymnasium is loud and packed at home games. Ferrante recently ordered 200 T-shirts for people who wanted to support the team. The shirts sold out on the first day they were available and Ferrante ordered more.

The team's senior leaders, Thomas and Burke, who recently showed up at school dressed as Fred and Wilma Flintstone, have become inseparable over the past two years.

"Rachel always makes me laugh, and she's just a great person to be around," Thomas said. "Our whole team is really meshing well, we all have a great connection to each other and the fans notice."

Thomas, a four-year varsity player, grew up around volleyball, thanks to her older sister who played at Atholton and the University of West Alabama. Burke competed in gymnastics and figure skating before trying volleyball for the first time as a freshman in high school.

Both are motivated by their passion and love for the sport. The fact that many teams in the county were rated above them at the beginning of the season, teams they have since defeated, also inspires them.

"When we played River Hill, they had gotten a lot of publicity and were ranked higher than we were," Thomas said. "We all wanted to win so badly and as a team, that was the best we've played so far."

Reservoir beat highly regarded River Hill, 25-9, 25-12, 25-21.

Opposing coaches knew that Burke and Thomas were the only returning starters for Reservoir. But during the first practices, Ferrante was pleasantly surprised when the new players quickly grasped the multiple plays and variations of offensive sets being taught.

"The other players came up, worked very hard and have a willpower and desire that we all share," Burke said. "We have something special and I couldn't ask for a better coach or a better team."

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