By Gabriel Stovall
JONESBORO, Ga. — As Aalyiah Lowe signed her national Letter of Intent to Columbus State Wednesday, she recalled a strange career highlight that fits with the narrative of why she came to Jonesboro to play volleyball in the first place.
It was after a 2-0 loss to Locust Grove — an uncommon place to find a highlight. But the highlight itself is even more out of the box.
She ran. And ran. And ran.
Her and her teammates ran during a practice after the Locust Grove match almost until they couldn’t run anymore.
“You’re talking about a highlight, but (Coach Dan Maehlman) made us run so much after the Locust Grove game,” she said. “I’ll remember that forever, because he made us run until we almost died. But I’m glad he made us do it because it made us better.”
Lowe said that game against the Wildcats was one they should’ve won.
“We just had, that game, it was just all bad,” Lowe said. “But we definitely got that punishment for it.”
And apparently the punishment worked, as Jonesboro ripped off eight wins in its next nine matches after the mini-marathon at practice. The team got better after that bit of discipline, and so did Lowe.
It’s those kinds of moments with Jonesboro volleyball coach Dan Maehlman that she actually wanted when she transferred over for her senior year after spending her first three years at Our Lady of Mercy.
“After three years at Mercy, you know, Mercy is a private school, I definitely wanted to get the feel of a real high school experience,” Lowe said. “The coaching there wasn’t too great and I wanted to get more exposure so I got that and the coaching here at Jonesboro.”
She also saw success at the Clayton County school that she hadn’t previously seen in her high school career. The Cardinals — a perennial county volleyball power — won its 15th county championship in the last 16 seasons.
Maehlman, Lowe and company finished the 2014 season with a 36-12 record overall and a 6-1 region mark to go with a Region 4-AAAA title and another state tournament appearance.
And in the midst of all of that team success, Lowe said she found herself improving vastly as an individual player.
“Maehlman is just a great coach,” she said. “This year has been awesome. Everything I wanted to accomplish while here happened.”
And it was capped off with the signing ceremony in Jonesboro’s media center Wednesday morning.
Lowe was the only Jonesboro athlete to sign a letter of intent during the Spring signing period. She picked Columbus State over North Carolina Central, West Texas A&M and Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.
Lowe’s signing was yet another reason for Maehlman — who recently coached his boys basketball team to back-to-back state titles, and is also the school’s athletic director — to feel good about the direction of his athletic program.
“It’s an awesome thing,” he said. “Like I’ve said before, it shows you just how special of a place this is. Her dad made the statement about not being too keen about bringing her here because of, probably, the things you hear about this not being a good school or a good area, but then you come here and you realize how much people care here. The administrators, coaches and teachers make this a good place. And good things happen in good places.”
Maehlman said Lowe’s high IQ for the game made her transition and ability to have immediate impact for the Cardinals an easy one. And she also showed the rest of the girls in the volleyball program that large scholarship fruits can definitely be plucked from the sport’s tree.
“She’s a role model coming in here as a senior,” he said. “She played club ball for A5 South and, you know, her whole sports life is volleyball. That’s all she knows, and nothing else. It shows our other girls that you can dedicate yourself to volleyball and still have an opportunity to go to school for free.”
That’s why Maehlman would like to see more student-athletes in his school and in the county concentrate more on perfecting volleyball skill sets.
“So many girls think you have a better chance to play college basketball, but really you don’t. Not that you don’t have to be good in volleyball to make it, but in volleyball they can take different attributes of your athleticism and give you a scholarship in volleyball where maybe you can’t do that in basketball.”
Lowe will admit, though, that her ample skills weren’t always readily evident. She said she had some rough moments when she began playing volleyball in the seventh grade before experiencing a personal breakthrough during her sophomore year.
“I sucked for a long time before I finally started putting in a lot of work for it,” Lowe said. “It was probably my 10th grade year when I said, ‘This is how I’m going to go to college.’ I figured I’ve gotta start doing some stuff differently or I don’t know what I’ll do for college, and I didn’t want to break my parents bank for college.”
That won’t happen. Instead, Maehlman expects his former player to excel at the collegiate level.
“Having her here made our team better,” he said. “She’s gonna be really good at the next level because of her commitment and how hard she’s worked and will work. I really wish I had the opportunity to coach her for four years instead of just one.”