Jackson Academy, Lakin Laurendine GB 8-0, win Southern Classic volleyball tournament in impressive fashion

Photo by Chris Todd

By Robert Wilson

The Jackson Academy volleyball team accomplished a lot last season: won its third straight BUT state championship and seventh in the last eight years, finished with a 38-8 record and ranked #1 in Mississippi by PrepVolleyball.com and #9 in the South by USA Today.

But the Lady Raiders did not win the Southern Classic tournament, hosted by Infinity Volleyball in Ridgeland. They lost to Ocean Springs in the semifinals.

JA coach Melissa Denson said: “My girls really wanted it this season.”

Mission accomplished.

Photo by Chris Todd

JA — led by 2021 All-American, Mississippi Gatorade Player of the Year and Auburn commitment Lakin Laurendine — went 8-0 and dropped just two sets to finish as champions. The Lady Raiders played in the “power” pool against the top teams in the tournament and defeated four MHSAA Class 6A teams, Gulfport 2-0, Desoto Central 2-0, Madison Central 2-1 and Ocean Springs 2-0. Next, JA defeated Madison-Ridgeland Academy 2-0 in the Round of 16, Ocean Springs 2-1 in the Quarterfinals, Madison Central 2-0 in the Semifinals, and defending MHSAA Class 6A Champion Brandon 2-0 in of the championship game. Madison Central and Ocean Springs were state 6A semifinalists last season.

JA improved to 10-0 this season after beating MAIS Class 6A Presbyterian Christian and MRA in two regular season games.

Denson wants his daughters to play against the best possible competition.

“It’s important to challenge yourself and play against the best teams to keep improving,” said Denson, who is in his fifth season at JA. “Beating 6A teams (from public school) showed my daughters what they were capable of and set the standard for the level we want to play at all year. The girls learned to overcome difficulties and losses and to form a team. We played high level matches and were able to give experience to young players.

With the two wins over MRA, JA has a 39-game winning streak against MAIS teams, dating back to a regular season loss at Hartfield Academy in 2020.

The 6-foot-2 Laurendine, a senior outside hitter, enjoys tournament competition.

Photo by Chris Todd

“Playing all of these 6A public school teams in this tournament gives us great opportunities to play teams not just in the BUT,” said Laurendine, who is ranked among the nation’s top 23 players in the Class of 2023 by the volleyball scout. com. “To be able to come back this year and beat Ocean Springs twice after missing the team last year in this same tournament is such a great feeling. These types of events are very important for our team because they help us grow in team on and off the court and proving to people that we are the best in the state.

Laurendine is one of four returning starters from last year’s state championship team. JA has six players 6-1 or better. One of those not in this group is junior 5-4 libero Kaylee Lowther, transferred from MHSAA Class 6A Germantown High, engaged in Southern Miss Friday.

National, regional and state rankings won’t be released until late August, but JA will likely be mentioned somewhere in those.

JA’s next game is on Tuesday against MAIS Class 5A Lamar at home. The Lady Raiders haven’t lost a home game to a MAIS side since Denson joined JA in 2018.

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