Following an abbreviated sophomore season last year in which Williamstown’s Joanna Andrews split time on the court as a setter with a senior, volleyball head coach Chris Sheppard saw the potential in her game.
Going into her junior year this year, Sheppard switched the team’s offense from a 6-2 to a 5-1 before the start of the season, preventing her from being substituted out of the front row to keep her in games longer.
The reasoning was simple: Keep Andrews on the court for as long as possible.
“We have other setters on our roster and we have some other setters that are pretty good, to be honest,” Sheppard said. “We basically said that we’ll live with the couple kills we might give up because her height doesn’t give us much block potential, but she more than makes up for it with what she brings to the table in terms of speed, heart, hustle, determination, IQ and all the other intangibles.
“We would’ve been a really good team without [Andrews] on the court as much as she was… but only with her were we a truly great team,” the coach added.
Thanks to the added time this season, Andrews cashed in on her fortunate position and more than delivered, dishing out 784 assists to her teammates on her way to an undefeated season with Williamstown and a Tournament of Champions title. Those assists were good for most in the state during the 2021-’22 season by a large margin, a program record.
“I knew going into the season that I was going to get more attention during games, since I would be on the whole time,” Andrews said. “But I was ready for that challenge.”
Meeting challenges has made Joanna Andrews South Jersey Sports Weekly’s 2021 Girls Volleyball Player of the Year.
After limited varsity action her freshman year, and an abbreviated sophomore season that spanned just 16 games because of COVID and had Andrews splitting time with the aforementioned senior, the change in offense this season required her to play longer in games during a season that was twice as long as her first.
That would be quite difficult for most players, especially over the course of an entire season, but the junior setter said she felt herself grow more comfortable and confident in the role early on in the season.
“At first, it was kind of difficult starting out, since I was used to coming out for a period of time throughout games … but towards the middle of the season, I got used to it, and that extra push helped get the best out of me,” Andrews said.
“I really grew a lot this year as a setter, too,” she added. “With playing front row, I had more options as to where I could hit it while on the court.”
According to Sheppard, the mostly young Williamstown squad experienced incredible individual growth all over the court during the season, helping the team achieve a perfect 37-0 record by the end of the year. Andrews’ personal growth was one the largest contributors to a fairy tale season.
“[Joanna] helped facilitate some of that growth for other players by helping set them up and putting girls in good positions on the court, which of course the others then had to follow through,” the coach said. “But she did a remarkable job this season.
“She had to walk a tough line for a high-school kid, in that she was a stern leader and motivator while also being able to be everyone’s best friend on the court.”