Sammie Baker - Making a difference at Norcross High School!!!September 10, 2014 -
NORCROSS — As a three-year starter in Norcross’ volleyball program, Sammie Baker has plenty going for her on the court.
Sure, her athleticism and court vision are just two aspects that have served her well.
But there are other assets that have made the junior one of Gwinnett County’s top setters, as well as an indispensable leader for the Blue Devils — including one that Norcross coach Jeff Cerneka believes is ingrained in her personality.
“She has phenomenal setter hands, and she’s very athletic,” Cerneka said. “(But) the other big thing was that she has the unique ability to just fit in. She develops relationships very easily. (Not) all kids … have that ability, but she has that ability to just fit in and develop relationships, and that’s helped her not just coming into a place like Norcross, but it’s also helped her become a leader.”
That ability served her well when she and her parents decided she should attend Norcross beginning her freshman year in 2012 after attending Greater Atlanta Christian School up to that point.
There were different reasons for that decision — among them to help further her own identity after following an older brother (Chase, a 2011 graduate) and sister (Jess, who graduated the following year), as well as her desire to just experience something different.
“It was a mutual decision (between her and her parents),” Baker said. “My brother and sister went through high school (at GAC), and they loved it, but I’m not that much like them. And I played soccer with four girls from Norcross, … and they’d say, ‘You should come to Norcross.’ Once it got in my mind, it was like, ‘I’d love to try public school,’ just for the change.”
Even so, such a drastic change could have made for a difficult transition for anyone.
But it didn’t take long for Baker to make her own impact at Norcross as a student, and especially on the volleyball court.
“I only knew about her because she arrived at our rising freshman summer camp (two years ago),” Cerneka said. “We took her and snagged her from the camp, and she’s been playing varsity ball ever since.”
But as quickly as she made a strong impression on her teammates and classmates at Norcross, the reverse was also true.
It started from that first day of summer workouts before her freshman year.
“Just my first time stepping in this gym was like home to me,” Baker recalled. “The seniors were like open arms. It was an amazing welcome. I love this school.
“In the beginning, coming in from a private school, walking into a gym with 30 girls who are all 6-feet tall, I was obviously kind of scared. But my second day, I was invited to open gym, which was later on in the day for the juniors and seniors. My first day, I stepped in and everyone was like, ‘Sammie!’ Everyone was so open-armed. That was awesome to me.”
It wasn’t just the volleyball program that opened Baker’s eyes by opening their arms to her.
She was equally struck by the sheer number of new people and potential friends among Norcross’ student body just waiting to be experienced.
“The first day here, it definitely opened my eyes. I was like, ‘Wow!’” Baker said. “There’s nothing negative. It was just a big change. At GAC, there’s about 100 kids in your grade. Here, there’s a total of 3,600 students. Just all the (different) faces in the cafeteria. It’s huge, the noise, everything is different, but I love the diversity here.
“Being at GAC, people are mainly from one background, and they all kind of know each other. But coming here, there are people from every kind of place. It’s amazing to see how I can get along with someone who has a complete different background from me. Every day, I see someone new, and it’s a good feeling to meet someone new every day. … GAC has amazing things to offer (too), but (they are) two different kinds of schools.”
Baker’s ability to quickly adjust and make friends with new people has definitely served her well on the volleyball court.
She’s not only been playing with the Blue Devils varsity program ever since that first day of summer workouts her freshman year, she’s been excelling in the program.
After sharing time with the now graduated Sarah Ann Gratwick as a freshman, Baker made the starting setter job her own by not only earning a spot on the All-Area 8-AAAAAA’s first team last year, but also being named second team All-County by the Daily Post after dishing out 666 assists and adding 155 digs and 53 service aces.
And this year, her production has soared even higher.
She has already nearly matched her season total from last year with 138 digs through just 21 matches so far this season, and is well on her way to eclipsing her assist total with 433.
But most importantly to Cerneka is the change in Baker’s role as a team leader, which he says she has adjusted to as well as she did when she changed schools two years ago.
“She’s had a little bit different role this year,” Cerneka said of Baker. “For the first two years, she’s been one of the younger girls (on the team). This year, we have a freshman and four sophomores on the team. So she’s become the leader. The roles are reversed for her. And again, her ability to develop relationships has now helped with the younger girls.
“Everything comes through her. She’s our quarterback through and through, and everybody knows it. Everybody knows who the leader of our team is, and she accepts that responsibility, which as a coaching staff we appreciate.”
But as well as Baker appears to have made the transition from follower to leader, even she thinks she can do better.
And that is something she says she and her teammates are particularly focusing on as the Blue Devils (11-10) begin to head down the second half of their schedule, including the 2014 Gwinnett County Championship tournament later this month.
“(Tuesday), actually, we have a bonding night with our team because we haven’t really had (one yet this season),” Baker said. “I think that will make a big difference in our team. … It’s more about a unity we don’t really have right now, but I think we’re picking it up. We had a good conversation (last) Friday.
“I feel like in the Gwinnett County championships (next week), if we really pick it up and play as a team, we could really do well. We have a young team, but we’re really good at coming together when we need to. We all want to learn and we all really want to work hard. It’s really nice to have that environment right now.”
Toughest thing about playing setter: The mentality. … When you’re a setter, you have to know how to control your team and keep them calm. It’s the whole mindset of, you don’t get credit. I love having that role because I love giving my hitters the credit.
• In her third season as a varsity starter at Norcross after being named first team All-Area 8-AAAAAA the last two years
• Named second team All-County by the Daily Post as a sophomore last season after posting 666 assists with 155 digs and 53 service aces
• Currently leads the Blue Devils with 433 assists through just 21 matches so far, and has added 138 digs and 22 aces
• Is already attracting interest from several college programs, including Furman, Wofford, East Tennessee State and Florida Southern
More information: http://www.gwinnettdailypost.com/news/2014/sep/09/baker8217s-ability-for-forge-strong-relationships/?sports