Baker’s Afton Adams has been named the Small Schools Volleyball Player of the Year

BAKER — After each Baker volleyball practice, coach Kathy Combest has her Gators run a mile inside the gym.


It’s grueling, senior Afton Adams said, especially on the heels of a full-body workout in the weight room, drills and conditioning work that includes, among other things, more running.


But all that running, the time spent lifting, just going the extra mile might be the reason Adams is wrapping up her high school volleyball career as the Daily News’ Small Schools Volleyball Player of the Year.


“It was tough mentally and physically but coach helped me a lot,” Adams said. “It was crazy the difference a jump rope and getting in the weight room would do just to help me.”


On the court, the difference was night and day, Combest said. After an offseason of hard work, Adams could suddenly run faster, jump higher and hit harder. She became a cornerstone of the Gators’ program en route their first Final Four appearance since 2013.


“She completely transformed her whole body,” Combest said. “That’s hard to do. When we got her, I told her, ‘You’re gonna need to go get faster. You gotta get where you can move.’


“She did it. She worked hard.”


With Combest and her teammates behind her, Adams said the transformation, though challenging, was an easy one to make. Combest has known her since she was a child and used to coach at Crestview alongside Adams’ aunt, Kim Harrison. The two would always invite Adams to come shag balls whenever Crestview would hold a camp.


Having mostly played softball growing up, Adams was mesmerized by volleyball before she finally joined her JV team at Laurel Hill in sixth grade.


“The girls made it seem like so much fun,” Adams said. “Even just shagging the balls was crazy. And then coach Combest made a big impact on me, as well. It just clicked.”


So too did the decision to transfer to Baker as a junior.


“Over at Laurel Hill, I wasn’t helping myself,” Adams said. “Whenever I had the motivation and people were behind me to motivate me, I pushed myself and I’m where I’m at now.”


Adams racked up 197 kills for the Gators, tying her with teammate Chelsi Brooks for the best mark on the team, 109 blocks and 12 aces. Each kill proved more pivotal than the last, Adams helping guide her squad through the postseason gauntlet of Central, Jay, Freeport and Jay again to reach the Final Four.


Although Baker fell 25-16, 25-15, 25-13 to the Pirates, Adams said it was the best moment of the year.


“That’s the farthest I’ve ever made it,” she said. “I got two district championships, both at Baker. Just having those, it makes me so happy that I had those moments with coach and all my friends.”