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Jessie Lewis led her Massac County volleyball teammates to a 33-6 season and the sectional championship game this year. She set the Lady Patriots record for kills in a season (437). And, she’s still learning the game.

Lewis didn’t start playing organized volleyball until seventh grade.

“I realized I kind of liked it,” she said.

Now, she possesses the kind of well-rounded game that has drawn the attention of college coaches and makes her the Southern Illinoisan’s Volleyball Player of the Year.

Massac County coach Zach Miller said Lewis made serious improvements in her game between her junior and senior seasons. She saw spot action as a freshman, but started her sophomore through senior seasons.

“She always wanted to hit hard, but her senior year she really used her range,” Miller said. “She could read the block so much better, hit around the blockers. She used her full range to become a more rounded hitter. A really, really powerful hitter is going to get stopped by a blocker in college. If she is going to play in college, she is going to have to hit around a double block.”

The change in Lewis’ game didn’t happen by accident. It was the result of hard work.

“I had wanted to play club volleyball for the past few years, but I played basketball and I had a couple injuries,” Lewis said. “Between my junior and senior years I was able to play club, just getting that higher level, faster playing and more experience really helped get me to where I was this season.”

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Now, she says that range is the strength of her game.

“I’m able to take that sharp crosscourt shot and then on the next play take it right down the line,” Lewis said. “I have that range that I can keep the defense on their toes. It was a mixture, I realized I liked hitting it hard and you get the crowd going, but at the same time I was hitting it mindlessly. Playing club also helped me realize that hitting hard they are going to dig it. I realized, take a little off, but hit it where you want it to go.

“Of course it always feels awesome just to slam the ball down. I love how everything connects, the perfect pass, the perfect set …. I love when everything connects. That entire feeling just makes me so happy.”

She also honed her game to the point that she played every rotation. Lewis had 340 digs this season. And, her teammates recognized the work ethic.

“I really felt like a lot of the younger girls wanted to emulate the intangibles she brought to the team,” Miller said. “I thought she elevated the play of the people around her. We started three underclassmen. She was able to pour in the things she gained. She made people around her better.”

That hard work is typical for Lewis. She is ranked eighth in her class and has a GPA of over 4.0 on a four-point scale.

“I’ll go as hard as I can in practice,” she said. “I’ll admit if I’m not playing up to my game, I’ll cry because I don’t feel I’m playing up to my potential. I set myself to a really high standard. I played basketball, I also run track and I’m very active in our FFA. Whatever I’m doing I’m going to put 110 percent in, most of all so I don’t let myself down.”

That combination of talent and work ethic has resulted in Lewis getting a scholarship offer to play volleyball at John A. Logan. She is following in her mother’s footsteps — Kathleen (Foss) Lewis is a member of JALC’s Hall of Fame as a basketball player.

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les.winkeler@thesouthern.com

618-351-5088

On Twitter: @LesWinkeler​

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