Harlem volleyball coach Mike Hopkins didn't know what to expect when he walked into tryouts in July.
Harlem High School volleyball coach Mike Hopkins watches Ashley Timmons spike the ball during practice. Though only two of his players had ever played volleyball before the season started, Hopkins says the Bulldogs have a good chance to win the regional championship.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Only two girls who came out for the team had ever played volleyball before this season.
"When I first saw them I thought they were nowhere close to being a team that could be competitive," Hopkins said.
However, the Bulldogs have been just that.
Harlem is on the verge of making its first playoff appearance since 2001.
The Bulldogs (11-8, 5-2) have moved into second place in Area 3-AAA, one game behind Glenn Hills. A good finish would allow Harlem to gain a higher seed in the area tournament Oct. 23 at the Academy of Richmond County. The top two teams from the area tournament advance to the state playoffs.
"The team has improved drastically," Hopkins said. "We have a good chance to win the region."
Senior captain Kelly Cheesborough said Hopkins has been the key to the surprising season.
"Coach Hopkins brought so much experience to the team," she said. "He has helped every player on the team so much."
Hopkins, a former Air Force volleyball player, took over for David Thibodeau this summer.
"I came here to teach and the volleyball job was open," Hopkins said. "It was a no-brainer. Teaching the game was an experience I couldn't pass up."
Hopkins says the team is far from where he would like it to be.
"We can't return hard serves because all the girls stand around and think someone else will get the ball," he said. "That is extremely frustrating. We are inconsistent. But that is to be expected with a bunch of girls who have never played the game."
Hopkins added that he does think the team is peaking at the right time and that they have a great chance to take the area lead with matches against Butler and Glenn Hills on Tuesday.
"I am having more fun this season than I have ever had playing volleyball," Cheesborough said. "We all want to get to the playoffs and that would be great for the program."
With renewed success at Harlem, Hopkins said he thinks the program can be successful in four years.
"We need to get players playing year-round volleyball," he said. "Because Georgia doesn't have middle school volleyball, these girls don't get the experience of growing up with the game.
"But they are playing their best and that is good enough for me."
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