With the high-school volleyball season on the horizon, Greenbrier coach Debbie Born had a problem on her hands. So did Lakeside coach Kevin Williams.
Both teams began tryouts last week, and each coach had to make a final cut. That basically meant telling some players, "Better luck next time."
Born says it's a tough job to cut players, but that beats the alternative - in 1996, Greenbrier's inaugural season, only four players came out for the squad, and Born was forced to recruit players to fill out the Lady Wolfpack roster.
Last week 31 players tried out for the junior-varsity and varsity teams at Greenbrier. "It's a very nice change," Born said.
Lakeside's tryouts featured 31 girls, an increase from last year. With the greater numbers, Williams has noticed a different attitude.
"The first year I coached, there wasn't much interest," said Williams, who coached the junior-varsity team the past three seasons and is in his first year as varsity coach. "It was more of a social-type sport. Now I'm seeing more athletes moving toward volleyball. As people find out about it, and with club volleyball, there's been more interest."
The volleyball surge can be partly attributed to recent performances. Everybody wants to play for a winner, a description which fits Greenbrier and Lakeside.
The Lady Wolfpack has claimed two area titles in the past three seasons, and Lakeside knocked off its county rival to claim its first area crown last fall. Greenbrier cruised to the final four in the 2002 Class AAAA state playoffs, while Lakeside advanced to the elite eight.
"Our success has definitely helped us, just getting our name out," Born said. "We have a few more players every year. It used to be that the girls who got cut from the softball team would come out for volleyball. That's not the case now. Girls are deciding to play volleyball at an earlier age, and they are starting to put a lot of time into it."
The other prep volleyball programs in Columbia County also are gaining momentum.
Kevin Williams, the new Lakeside volleyball coach, takes notes during recent team tryouts.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
The Augusta Preparatory Day School varsity placed second in the 2002 Georgia Independent School Association state tournament, and this fall Augusta Christian Schools has started a volleyball program. Harlem High School is coming off two solid seasons, and the Evans High School Lady Knights won their first region volleyball title last year.
Besides hoisting trophies, there's another reason athletes are drawn to the court - there's no sunlight inside a gym.
"I think some of them may be choosing volleyball over softball because of the heat," Williams says. "A lot of the girls don't want to be out in the 100-degree heat."
That's not to say Greenbrier and Lakeside players aren't working up a sweat. The teams are preparing for a season-opening jamboree at Cross Creek High School on Saturday, and the Lady Panthers officially start the 2003 season with a match at Evans High School on Tuesday. Greenbrier begins the season next Thursday with a tri-match at Cross Creek.
Setting goals for the upcoming campaign is an essential part of the preseason workouts.
For Williams, the task is to continue the winning tradition established by Kerri Smith, the only other coach in Lakeside volleyball history. She stepped aside after eight years with the team to tend to a growing family, and Williams is ready to step in and lead the Lady Panthers.
"We've already talked some about our goals. When we get everyone together, we'll talk more about what we want to accomplish individually and as a team," Williams said. "I think we have a good mix of girls. Hopefully we'll play up to our potential."
Lakeside returns four key players from last year's championship team: Diana Amick, Kim Peters, Natasha Reynolds and Dana Tyler.
Greenbrier has to replace Area 2-AAAA player of the year Laura Schmidt, who graduated and moved to college volleyball. Of course, the Lady Pack had to fill the void of departing area players of the year the past two seasons (Sarah Smith in 2000 and Lindsey Sutherland in 2001), and the team never missed a beat.
"It seems like we pull it through and go further every year," Born said. "Our goal this season is to get back in the top five at state."
Greenbrier's Jennifer Wells is back for her senior season, and provides power at the net. A core group of experienced Lady Pack returnees will be complemented by the addition of Melissa Lewis, an Evans High School transfer.
But even as the volleyball boom has built expectations for the local teams, Born still sees room for improvement.
"Most of our players pretty much start from scratch in the ninth grade," Born said. "What we really need are ninth-grade teams and middle-school volleyball programs. The interest is there."
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