Ferguson & Whittaker

After graduation, Gracie Whittaker (left) plans to attend Virginia Western Community College and then transfer to Liberty to major in education. Jaelynn Ferguson plans to attend Virginia Tech and major in engineering.

It’s the backend of August, and usually at this point, fall athletes are gearing up for the start of the season. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, fall athletes are forced to play the waiting game to see if the model 3 plan voted on by the Virginia High School League (VHSL) will follow through.

For seniors, it’s something they never envisioned happening to them at this point last year, and, honestly, who can blame them? For two seniors specifically at Staunton River High School (SRHS), Jaelynn Ferguson and Gracie Whittaker, the thought of not being able to play their final year of volleyball is a possibility they can’t fathom. 

“That will be a really tough thing for us to hear,” Ferguson said as Whittaker looked on nodding with agreement. “It would break my heart; I would be devastated.”

Both Ferguson, who plays outside hitter, and Whittaker, who plays inside and outside hitter, are the only two seniors on the volleyball team and have played varsity for the Golden Eagles since they were freshman. Although the Golden Eagles will be somewhat young and inexperienced, the senior duo still believes their final year has the potential to be great. It will come with its challenges, however. 

The SRHS volleyball team lost six seniors from last year and only three of the now juniors played varsity last year. Teams that usually see a major loss in experience would have the offseason and workouts together to build the chemistry and gel together as a group. However, the COVID-19 pandemic prevented offseason workouts from happening. This has led Ferguson and Whittaker to embrace the mindset of stepping up their leadership role as seniors during the summer and when workouts open back up. 

“I definitely am putting a lot of pressure on myself,” Whittaker said. “I feel like I’m responsible for us getting together, being able to have fun, telling my teammates what they can work on and how to fix it.”

“Gracie and I have been on varsity since our freshman year, so we worked really hard to bring ourselves up into this position,” Ferguson said in response to Whittaker’s comments. “We’re trying to keep the energy up and keep everybody in a positive attitude. So we do put a lot on ourselves, just so we can have that teamwork and bonding to a point that we haven’t been able to have the past seasons.”

Their former teammate, Hollie Creasey, doesn’t have any doubt they can be true leaders that the volleyball team needs.

“I believe they will both do great bringing the team together. They both were like sisters to me when playing with them; they are both responsible and mature,” Creasey said. “I believe that being on varsity since freshman year, they know the role and what to expect to become a team leader and how to earn the spot of captain. They both are very bright and intelligent girls as well.”

There’s more to this story in the current issue of the Smith Mountain Eagle newspaper. Pick up a copy or subscribe at www.smithmountaineagle.com/subscriber_services to view the full article in the print and/or e-edition version.

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