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Milton’s Grope enters the record books

The senior setter became the first player in program history to record 1,000 career assists

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes Jackson-Milton senior Paige Grope sets the ball during a home contest against Niles on Monday. Grope recently became the first player in program history to record 1,000 career assists.

NORTH JACKSON — On the west end of the gymnasium at Jackson-Milton High School are plenty of signs to honor career milestones, past championships, and other accomplishments achieved by Blue Jays of the past.

On the far left of the wall is a massive silver and blue metal sign dedicated to those who have recorded 1,000 career kills donning the Blue Jays uniform.

Tack one more sign onto next year’s athletic budget, because for the first time in program history Jackson-Milton has a player entering the 1,000 assists club. Senior setter Paige Grope reached the milestone last week during a 3-0 sweep of Sebring, and couldn’t be more excited knowing her name will one day be displayed.

“Me and (senior) Mia Greco, we’ve been playing since I was in seventh grade, so really the chemistry was there,” said Grope. “Just communicating to your hitters, asking them what they want, how tight, how far off, the communication is really key in this sport for sure.

“Knowing that my sister (Mackenzie) played before me, she was a big inspiration, and my mom (Gina) did when she was in school. Really just wanted to carry on the family tradition I guess.”

Grope was set up for success early in her career, earning 531 assists during her sophomore campaign as part of a 5-1 style offense, which allowed her plenty of opportunities to rack up the numbers and earn the single-season school record.

Since then she had her eyes firmly set on 1,000, but the path is never easy, especially with all of the challenges thrown at athletes over the past few years across the nation.

That’s on top of being a three-sport athlete with basketball and softball on her plate.

“It was pretty difficult, knowing this season we have younger girls, we have started two or three sophomores and a couple of juniors that haven’t played varsity,” said Grope, after the team earned a 6-4 record with a win over Niles on Monday. “Only three of us played varsity last year, so really knowing I’d have some young ones, I was a little bit more nervous to see if I’d get there. But, I knew that with my team and my hitters I’d get it.”

Last season, coach Stephen Mohr changed up the 6-2 formation, which did cut down on her production a bit, but the team tests her to be one of the best on and off the court.

“She’s a great mentor for our young kids. We call her the heart of the team. She kinda sets the tempo, gets the other players up,” Mohr said. “She gives the younger ones a chance to look at what they can achieve as a setter.

“We challenge her in practice, and even in the summer, we challenge her a lot and get her frustrated so that way when the game time comes, it’s a little bit easier, it slows the game down for her.”

Grope credits all of the other coaches that have paved the way for her so far in her career. Having to juggle three sports seasons is no small task, but she places more emphasis on her academics, not deciding what her plans for college are yet.

“It definitely teaches you a bunch, being with the girls especially, you get much closer as a team, not just volleyball, but all of those sports, especially growing up together really helps,” Grope said, commenting that volleyball is her favorite sport. “It’s just more like a team sport I think. Knowing that I have everyone there, most of my friends play more volleyball than any other sport.

“It does get difficult, especially on your body, sometimes it gets tiring, but really knowing my goals and setting them at the beginning of the season is really well keeps me going academically and athletically.”

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