E.A. Sports Today

Jumping for joy

Donoho’s Clendenin not shy about showing emotion, his enthusiasm carries Lady Falcons back to 1A North Regionals; Faith wins area title

Donoho volleyball coach Jamie Clendenin shows some hops after the Lady Falcons defeated Sacred Heart to clinch a spot in the Class 1A North Regionals. (All photos by Tony Bedford)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

Huntsville, get ready. Donoho volleyball coach Jamie Clendenin may be the most animated coach at this week’s Class 1A North Regionals at the Von Braun Center.

The first-year Lady Falcons’ coach exuberance and 24-inch vertical leap were on full display Tuesday night when Donoho stopped rival Sacred Heart 3-1 to earn a trip back to the regionals after the program missed for the first time in a generation (33 years) a year ago.

Top-seeded host Faith Christian won the Class 1A Area 10 tournament title, beating the Lady Falcons 3-0 (25-9, 25–5, 25-9), but Donoho got what it came for. Faith reached the final with an easy 3-0 win over JCA.

Faith’s Erin Cheek was named tournament MVP for her setting and serving. She had 30 assists in the title match.

The senior-laden Lady Lions were expected to advance to the regionals, the young Lady Falcons not so much, but they beat the expectations on the crest of their coach’s tidal wave of enthusiasm.

Clendenin was at his most active in the second set of the Sacred Heart match when the Lady Falcons rallied from the first set to tie the match and eventually take control. The game scores were 15-25, 25-17, 25-13, 25-23.

He was off his feet twice during the biggest rallies of the second set, but his enthusiasm was off the chart throughout the match with active encouragement that included aggressive fist pumps and clapping the clipboard that admittedly left him spent when it was over.

“I’m not going to lie to you, I feel like I’m going to pass out,” he said. “I’m pretty excited, though.

“I’ve been coaching high school and club for 10 years now and I’ve made that my thing, where I just jump and give them high-fives. It’s like a little extra boost of momentum to let the girls know I’m there for them. I feel like if I’m enthusiastic we’ll play with enthusiasm.”

Clendenin was that way when he coached soccer at Oxford and Weaver and developmental level volleyball at Weaver, and it didn’t go unnoticed. He was hired at Donoho in May after last year’s coach, former Saks standout Destinee Briskey, left for Oxford.

“I saw him last year at the junior high/JV level, we were playing at our tournament, and I said that guy’s got something that I like because his team at Weaver was responding to that energy,” Donoho athletics director Steve Gendron said. “To be honest I think our girls didn’t know how to take it to start the season and then when they realized his passion for the game was genuine, I think they kind of bought into it.

“He’s got a lot of energy. I think I have a lot of energy, but he’s on a whole ‘nother level and it’s good. It keeps them on their toes. He’s high energy and I’ve seen our girls go from a duller, laid-back team to a passionate one wanting to be here and do what it’s done.”

What they’ve done is gone 31-16 after winning only seven matches a year ago. Amazingly, they’ve done it with a roster of mostly eighth- and ninth-graders.

Eighth-grader Lily Grace Draper has 17 kills against Sacred Heart and classmate Mary Marshall Perry had 12. Sophomore Maggie Miller had 25 assists and 16 digs; junior Kate Porteous had 15 assists and 16 digs; and Jenna Stremmel, the team’s lone senior, had 28 digs.

“We all feed off his energy,” Draper said. “This is my first year having coach jumping up and down and stuff; I think it really helps us a lot.”

“It’s really neat because you know your coach just cares about the sport for you; he wants the best for you,” Perry added. “Most coaches aren’t like that, so it does show that he cares. He’s excited.”

The Lady Falcons will play Area 12 champion Meek in their regional opener at the VonBraun Center Friday at 10:15 a.m. Faith Christian will play Area 12 runnerup Lynn at 11:30.

“Donoho is rich in a tradition of winning, but when I came these girls felt like there was no way and then they started to believe and we started winning some games the way we can,” Clendenin said. “My motto this year is ‘Why not us;’ that’s what we’ve been saying all year. We’ve worked hard, we’ve played hard and now we’re in a position where we can (win) … The reality is we’re sitting strong for the next couple years. The future is really bright.”

Faith Christian repeats as area champs

The Lady Lions (29-10) are returning to Huntsville as area champions after a dominating performance that left tournament MVP Erin Cheek to say their game is “the best it’s ever been.”

They easily put away JCA to qualify for the regionals, and then didn’t give Donoho any chance to cash in on the momentum it had coming out of the semifinals. Faith has lost only two sets in area play all season – and those in its area opener – and three over the past two seasons.

“We played two really good matches,” Faith coach Justin Kisor said.

Cheek had 30 assists in the title match, 67 in the two matches and “almost cried” when she was announced as the MVP. Nicole Frechette had 12 kills in the title match and 27 total. Zana Christjohn had 18 total kills and Sydnee Johnson had 20 total kills and seven total blocks. S.J. Christjohn had five aces against JCA. Emily Sills had eight aces, five digs and three kills against Donoho and 10 aces total.

“Erin was great; her serving was awesome,” Kisor said. “And if you want a key to the game I thought Emily Sills was unbelievable. She was huge on the right side. She was big-time tonight.”

“Everybody before the game was saying how they were on and they were ready – they could feel it – so we knew it was going to be a good night,” Cheek said.

As for going back to the regionals, Kisor said “the expectations are different, but the trip’s the same.

“If we play like we did tonight, I like our chances against anybody.”


(25-9, 25-15, 25-9)
KILLS – Faith Christian: Abby Kazanjian 1, Erin Cheek 2, Nicole Frechette 12, Zana Christjohn 10, Sydnee Johnson 6, Emily Sills 3, S.J. Christjohn 1. Donoho: Lily Grace Draper 6, Maggie Wakefield 2, Mercy Mangum 1, Mary Marshall Perry 3, Jenna Stremmel 2.
ASSISTS – Faith Christian: Abby Kazanjian 2, Erin Cheek 30, Nicole Frechette 2, Zana Christjohn 1. Donoho: Maggie Miller 8, Kate Porteous 5, Maggie Wakefield 1, Jenna Stremmel 1.
ACES – Faith Christian: Erin Cheek 2, Nicole Frechette 3, Emily Sills 8, S.J. Christjohn 1, S.K. McVeigh 2. Donoho: Leyden Orth 1, Mary Marshall Perry 1.
DIGS – Faith Christian: Abby Kazanjian 19, Erin Cheek 5, Nicole Frechette 8, Zana Christjohn 3, Emily Sills 5. Donoho: Mya Keel 9, Maggie Miller 7, Jenna Stremmel 12, Kate Porteous 1, Lily Grace Draper 3, Maggie Wakefield 2, Mercy Mangum 1.
BLOCKS – Faith Christian: Zana Christjohn 1, Sydnee Johnson 4, S.J. Christjohn 1, S.K. McVeigh 1. Donoho: Mary Marshall Perry 1.
RECORDS – Faith Christian 29-10, Donoho 31-16.

Faith Christian’s Erin Cheek (19) was named the Class 1A Area 10 tournament MVP. The rest of the all-tournament team included teammates Abby Kazanjian, Nicole Frechette and Zana Christjohn, Donoho’s Lily Grace Draper and Mary Marshall Perry (all pictured), Sacred Heart’s Angel Nguyen and JCA’s Elizabeth Goss.

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