Ti’Ian Boler is known for her skills with a basketball.
The Meridian Star Premier Preps athlete averaged a double-double for Meridian High School last season and helped her team reach the third round of the MHSAA Class 6A postseason.
But before basketball season begins, Boler spends her time as a prominent member of Meridian’s volleyball team.
The 6-foot senior outside hitter said she likes spiking the ball.
“I’m a hitter, and when I hit the ball and I smack it down, it feels really good,” she said.
The Lady Wildcats volleyball team has been a part of the school’s athletics since 1998. Jamie Buxton was a player on that inaugural team and came back to the program in 2002 to help coach, taking over as head coach in 2010.
She described the first couple of years as “rocky,” as her early varsity teams were still learning the basics of the game, having never played it previously. Now, the sport has grown at Meridian to include a junior varsity and middle school school team.
Buxton said she visits the middle schools in attempting to get more participation.
“A lot of is just trying to get it out to the community that we actually have volleyball in Meridian,” Buxton said.
While several of her players are multi-sport athletes like Boler, she said volleyball is the only sport for many others. The game can be an outlet for those who struggle at other activities.
“They came in and found their niche here,” she said. “It’s really more about mental capabilities than it is about athleticism.”
Senior captain Ta’Dashia Flowers, unaware there was a volleyball team, got her introduction to the sport in sixth grade when she attended the high school team’s senior night game and decided to try out the next year. When she did, she said she didn’t think she stood much of a chance of making the roster.
“I noticed I was the shortest one out there so I didn’t think I was going to make it,” Flowers said. “But I was like, ‘I’m just going to hustle really hard.’”
The day she decided to try cheerleading instead, she learned she made the team.
Four years later and she’s the starting setter/defensive specialist on the varsity squad. At 5-foot-1, she said she uses her speed to get to the ball. Usually placed on the second and back line, she often gets rotated to the front, which she said throws off opponents and potential blockers.
“I’ve only been blocked one time since seventh grade,” she said. “They don’t think I’m going to hit, but that works in my advantage because they don’t try to block me.”
What Flowers enjoys about the game is how one player’s attitude affects the rest. She said with so much communication among teammates, they need to stay positive during a match.
“If something happens, if you miss a ball, you can’t sit there and dwell on it because if you do that, you’re whole team will suffer from it,” she said. “You have to pick each other up.”
As a setter, much of her responsibilities is feeding the ball to Boler for her to spike it onto the opposition’s floor, called a kill. At 6 feet tall, Boler said her skills in the sport transfer to basketball.
“I jump so high for volleyball and we do a lot of footwork (drills), that carries onto the (basketball) court with rebounds, shooting and blocking shots,” she said.
Buxton said having a confident team that treats one another like family will make the Lady Wildcats play better and be more successful.
“Every year I want to be competitive,” Buxton said. “I don’t care if I’m starting from scratch. I want people to say ‘Dang, Meridian really has some fire.’”
Buxton said having two players like Flowers and Boler who are talented and know the game well enough to teach it helps the program.
“Sometimes you get girls who just want to better themselves. They don’t want to help anybody else,” Buxton said. “But any time I ask those two, they’re always eager and willing to help me grow the next set of girls.”
Meridian uses the same gym as the basketball teams. Buxton said scheduling court times with each other won’t be an issue come October as the the other coaches, and the school, understand her importance to the volleyball program.
“Because they know me, and know how passionate I am about it, they respect what I do,” Buxton said.
Meridian opens its season Aug. 13 against Quitman at home.