Considering how the Greenbrier High School volleyball team started the 2003 season, Lady Wolfpack coach Debbie Born didn't mind getting a reality check last weekend.
Greenbrier raced to a 17-0 record, which was the best start in school history. The bad news was the Lady Wolfpack then lost three of four matches at the Oconee County Play Day last weekend.
The 17th win may have taken a toll. Greenbrier needed two hours to knock off Aiken High School in its Sept. 18 match at the Brierpatch, and the Lady Pack lacked energy at Oconee.
"We played some ranked teams, and it wasn't a good day," Born said. "That just puts you back in check and shows what you need to work on."
Greenbrier got it right Tuesday, improving to 19-3 with a hard-fought victory at North Augusta High School.
Over the past three seasons, the Lady Pack has enjoyed more success than any other local prep volleyball squad. Greenbrier claimed Region 3-AAAA titles in 2000 and 2001, and followed with a trip to the Class AAAA final four last year.
Greenbrier's Cassie Rountree returns a serve during practice with the team. The Lady Wolfpack is 19-3 under a rule change this year to a best-of-five rally scoring format.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
It looks like more of the same in 2003.
"The kids worked real hard in the offseason, and now we're starting to come together as a team," Born said. "The majority of our players put in a lot of time playing club ball in the winter, and that makes a difference."
All but three of the 10 varsity players at Greenbrier compete in club ball, and Born says that carries over onto the court during the high-school campaign.
"I encourage that (playing club ball), plus they know to get to the next level, that's what it takes," she said.
Though Greenbrier is familiar with success, the Lady Pack is having a new experience this season. High-school matches have switched to a best-of-five rally scoring format. In previous years, squads competed in best-of-three matches to 15, with only the serving team scoring points.
With rally scoring, a point is earned every time the ball is put into play, and squads play to 25.
One of Greenbrier's team strengths is serving, which is crucial in the rally-scoring format. During the 17-game win streak, the Lady Pack was getting 90 percent of their serves in bounds.
"I've asked my players, and I think it has helped us," Born said. "With rally scoring there is more of an emphasis on putting the ball in play, so you have to be focused from the first point. Placement and skill become more important, which is a good thing."
Having talented players is the key in any format, and Greenbrier has that aspect covered.
Jennifer Wells has been dominant at middle hitter, Sunni Bennett is coming on strong at outside hitter, and sophomore Melissa Lewis transferred from Evans and is playing well at outside hitter for the Lady Pack.
The team's four seniors - Wells, Rachel Cordier, Cassie Rountree and Amie Postell - are providing leadership this season, but Born says every players is contributing to Greenbrier's success.
That kind of teamwork has been the foundation for the Lady Pack's volleyball program, and Greenbrier's fans have come along for the ride.
"I've been amazed at the number of people at our matches," said Born, who noted that some recent contests have filled the bleachers at the Brierpatch.
The Lady Pack has earned respect from their fans, but the state high-school poll (listed on www.georgiavolleyball.com) overlooked Greenbrier's early excellence on the court this season.
Even after the unbeaten start, and the final-four appearance in Class AAAA last year, Greenbrier was missing from the most recent top-20 rankings.
"That's all right," Born said. "We like to be the underdogs. Things work out better that way."
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