A pair of Carroll County natives have helped ignite a resurgence for Guilford College’s volleyball team.
Freshman Morgan Tompkins and junior Jessica Sheek, a transfer from Averett College, helped the Quakers advance to the Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) Tournament for the first time since 2012 this past season. Tompkins and Sheek both were among Guilford’s team leaders as the Quakers finished with a 6-5 record in ODAC play to earn the fifth-seed in the eight-team tournament.
“We are excited. A couple of years ago we had a pretty large roster that fell apart for different reasons. It left us with a small team and we had to bring in quite a few girls,” Guilford head coach Emily Gann said. “We brought in 13 new girls, which is a lot of freshmen, but they are a good group of girls. They are good people and they all work hard and have that desire. Morgan and Jessica have been part of this group that has created a nice culture here. They want to win, they do the work in the weight room and in the gym, and they just really hold each other accountable.”
Sheek, a 5-10 junior from Lambsburg, was a more than welcome addition to the Quakers’ roster, both in talent and leadership. A two-year starter at Averett, she immediately came into Greensboro and made an impact, finishing second on the team for Guilford with 181 kills and leading the team in hitting percentage at .277.
“Jessica coming to us from Averett was a surprise. We didn’t know she was coming until the summer. She wasn’t happy with her experience at Averett and she wanted to find somewhere she could be happy,” Gann said. “And we are so glad she came because she brought great experience and leadership to the group as a junior. She really helped out our freshmen and sophomores and she also served as a mentor to Morgan since they played together in high school.”
Despite not playing in two conference games due to a knee injury, Sheek still put up some of the best stats on the Quakers’ team. Gann couldn’t be more pleased with how quickly she adjusted to a new school and a new team.
“Jessica came to us with some great tools. She is a mature player with a lot of playing experience. She was one that I expected to come in the gym and see some playing time right away, but it also takes time to transition to a new setter and a new group of girls. It ended up being the perfect time for her to come in because we were reinventing ourselves as a team. She played middle hitter for us and she was very dominant.”
Tompkins, a 5-7 freshman from Galax, also made a lasting impression on her Guilford coaches. Despite being undersized as an outside and rightside hitter, Tompkins still finished third on the team in kills with 157. A versatile player who can play anywhere on the court, she was also fifth for the Quakers with 156 digs.
“Morgan went through some freshman growing pains, but she finally came around and found that confidence that we needed. She is such a coachable player. I’m not sure I have ever had a player as coachable as her,” Gann said. “She listens and tries to correct things and she knows now and can kind of talk herself through some of the changes she needs to make. She’s super competitive and it’s nice to have someone who can go out and fight through mistakes and keep competing.”
Tompkins ended up starting much of the season for Guilford despite facing challenges from several players at her position. Gann said height isn’t a big factor in Division III volleyball if you are a smart player with the ability to adapt and change within the game.
“And that is one of the biggest thing she brings as far as being coachable. She’s very smart and has a very high volleyball IQ as far as making in-game adjustments,” Gann said. “When I saw Morgan play with her travel team last spring, she was playing all the way around, playing defense. I was really impressed with her defense, but I didn’t see her hitting as hard as we saw this year. We just knew she was smart and could make some plays on the offensive side. But with her ability to serve receive and play defense, she played all the way around and gave us some great numbers.”
A 2016 CCHS graduate, Tompkins said she was pleasantly surprised to earn so much playing time as a freshman. She played in every game and said being part of a Guilford volleyball revival has been an amazing feeling.
“There’s definitely an excitement right now. We all knew after preseason it was going to be a really good year,” Tompkins said. “We knew we had a lot of solid freshmen coming in that could make an impact right away and we knew we could do better than year’s past. Our goal was conference championship but we played a really good game in the tournament.”
When Tompkins committed to Guilford last spring, she didn’t realize she might be reunited with her former teammate. Having Sheek on her side again has done wonders, she said.
“Jess made a huge difference for us in the middle,” Tompkins said. “I knew she was looking there but she didn’t commit to coming until two weeks to a month after I committed. I was so excited when she did that. We pushed each other a lot this season and it was great to have that and have somebody to go to who understood home. Being here is a lot different than Carroll County, but I absolutely love it here.”
Likewise, Sheek has fallen in love with Guilford College. Even though she was a two-year starter at Averett, she said she is much more comfortable at Guilford, which she said provides a much better atmosphere. All in all, the transition couldn’t have gone better.
“I was happy to keep that leadership role coming from Averett into Guilford, really happy to stay a positive player on the court and I was really happy to see Morgan step up into a leadership role,” Sheek said. “I’m glad we both could bring what we did in high school to where we are now.”
Even though Sheek had two years of college experience, she said it was still nice to know someone like Tompkins would be joining her as she moved into her new school. At Averett, Sheek helped guide the team to one championship appearance and a semifinal appearance in the ODAC Tournament. Just making it to the ODAC Tournament at Guilford far exceeded those accomplishments, however.
“Even though I have been there a couple of times, it was just so much different and so much more important for me to get there this year than it has ever been. It was such a relief to see everything pull together near the end,” Sheek said. “Just to make it to the first round of conference this year with Guilford was so much more important because we are building a new foundation. This team at Guilford, we are like sisters.”
A 2014 CCHS graduate, Sheek can’t wait to see what her senior year holds.
“For it to be my senior year and having such a strong team and seeing strong recruits come in, it is very exciting,” she said. “It’s especially exciting to spend my senior year somewhere I feel like I belong.”
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN