Sam Wakefield recalls early backyard games of pepper, when older sister Maggie hit volleyballs to her. Actually, Sam’s word to describe the way those shots came at her is “slammed.”
Yes, Sam was a sixth-grader and didn’t yet play volleyball, but would anyone expect less from ultra-competitive siblings? That’s why Sam speaks of her moment of revenge with such a grin.
In a summer club-ball practice, she looked at her older and taller sister across the net. Both jumped, and Maggie hit with Maggie force. Sam blocked that shot and admits she never lets big sis live it down.
“It was two years ago, and I think it’s still going,” Sam said. “I’m like, ‘You’re hitting into a 5-foot-2 block, so.”
How appropriate that the Wakefield sisters would one day partner as setter and hitter in school ball … and how ironic that such a collaboration nears its end, deep into its one season in effect.
Maggie was one of six seniors honored during Donoho’s senior night Thursday. Sam, a freshman who also teams with her sister in soccer, stood with her and their parents before the Falcons (20-2) beat Faith Christian 25-12, 25-12, 25-16.
The Wakefield sisters have been part of successful teams. In 2020, their first season together in varsity volleyball, they helped Donoho finish as Class 1A runner-up, Maggie as a hitter and Sam as libero.
They did the same in soccer in the spring. With Maggie as an all-state goalkeeper and Sam working as a center-midfielder, they helped Falcons reach the state final for the first time in program history.
Sam became the answer to the biggest position question facing Donoho’s volleyball coming into this season. Her move to setter followed the graduation of two-time 1A-3A Calhoun County player of the year Maggie Miller, who surpassed 2,500 assists over her career.
Sam, No. 5 in soccer, took that number in volleyball this season. Miller wore it previously.
Both Wakefield sisters have benefitted from their collaboration.
Maggie Wakefield has 168 kills on the season. She and classmate Mercy Mangum, both captains, helped Donoho to fill Miller’s leadership void.
Maggie Wakefield’s “energy is something infectious,” Donoho coach Jamie Clendenin said.
Sam has piled up 453 assists, including the 95 she recorded in four matches at Albertville High School’s tournament over this past weekend.
Big sis isn’t Sam’s only target. Mangum, Lily Grace Draper, Mary Marshall Perry, Estella Connell and Yana Osovska also factor into Donoho’s hit parade. Clendenin also sped up the Falcons’ attack and diversified it, with more short sets to go along with wide sets to the outside.
Sam adjusted to more than just a change from defense to quarterbacking the attack.
“She’s done a really good job of just being consistent,” Clendenin said. “Early on, we had some growing pains. As I’ve watched over the last few weeks, you can kind of see that mental ability of hers to make good decisions at the right time.”
Maggie said taking sets from her sister has “been fun.”
“She’s really a hard worker,” Maggie said. “She sacrifices her entire body for the team, and you can see the passion she plays with on the court.”
This season’s dynamic offers something for both Wakefield sisters. While Maggie gets to be one of the star hitters and bosses on the court, Sam gets to distribute the power.
“It’s definitely great in the house, because she can’t be mean to me,” Sam joked. “I don’t necessarily not set her, but I do have the power.
“We fought a lot in the beginning, but then I realized that I actually do need her, in order to run things.”
The Wakefield sisters are far enough apart in age that they have surprisingly little time as teammates in volleyball or soccer. Maggie typically moved up in level before Sam could join her.
Maggie moved up to varsity as a freshman, and Sam played junior-high ball as a seventh-grader. They were both varsity soccer players in 2019, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced an early end to that season.
Sam took on volleyball after sixth grade and broke into the varsity lineup as an eighth-grader. Trying to field Maggie’s hits on those backyard pepper games became a challenge she had to answer.
“She’s always my drive, because I always want to be better than her,” Sam said. “I saw her playing, and I was like, ‘OK, I need to do something.’”
Sam broke in as a libero, at 5-foot-5. She grew to 5-7, and Clendenin saw her defensive prowess as additional upside for her new role as setter this season.
She’s demonstrated that she can block in club ball, in her short time trying to block.
“I stopped blocking after I blocked once and blocked her, so I retired on a good note,” Sam said. “But I won’t let her forget it.”
Maggie hinted that lil sis might’ve had luck on her side in that exchange.
“She jumped up at the right time, and I hit right into her hands,” Maggie said. “She blocked it, and it was, like, best moment of the summer for her, for sure.”
The two have the rest of this season to work together, Sam feeding the 5-9 Maggie for Maggie’s thunderous hits. Maggie said she’s “super proud” of how Sam has filled in for Miller.
“It’s brought out the best in her as a player and me as a player,” Maggie said “We push each other on and off the court.”