As the regular season wound down for Evans' volleyball team with Sept. 30 matches against Greenbrier, Jillyan Thompson was nervous.
It was her birthday, and every year she has been on the varsity squad, Evans has played either Lakeside or Greenbrier on that date.
The past matches had not gone well, and Thompson hoped the final one would provide a nice 18th birthday gift.
"The first game against Greenbrier, we lost. So we had to win the next two games," she said. "I was thinking, 'Oh my gosh. If we lose, I'm going to cry.'
"But we won both, and I was like, 'Yes!' That's how I wanted my birthday to go."
The match not only made for a special day for the senior setter, but it also finished off Evans' regular-season sweep of Greenbrier.
It was a big step for the Knights, senior Deja Rivera said.
"From freshman year, I was told by all the seniors that Greenbrier's so tough, so big, they're the best team around, and we can't beat them," she said. "Everyone has that thing stuck in their head that they're better."
Evans has accomplished a lot this season, and Knights coach Lane Schuckers believes his group of four seniors -- Thompson, Rivera, Mackenzie Bourne and Alecia Peters -- has provided a dependable nucleus.
"Without them, we'd be in a lot of trouble," he said. "We rely on them heavily when we need a point. One of those four girls is who we go to. They're pretty special."
The four players have a lot in common. Rivera said they get along great on and off the court.
"I think it's a great relationship," she said. "We're great friends. We goof off, have fun, have inside jokes. But we also know when to be serious. It's a delicate balance, but it works."
Bourne said it's been nice being the "top dogs" this year because Evans has been the younger team gaining experience. She believes the team has succeeded because Schuckers has forced his players to become well-rounded.
"Coach made us learn all the positions, so everyone can play basically almost all of the positions," said Bourne, who specializes as a strong-side hitter but provides solid defense, too.
Peters, also a strong-side hitter, agrees that the team has peaked this year to its full potential. She said her role is to pick up the team when it needs a boost.
"I'm kind of the encourager," Peters said. "I'm not the most competitive person, so if we start losing, I'm not going to get really mad. I enjoy helping others to get better and keeping us together as a team."
One thing all four had in common was a belief that the Knights could win the Region 2-AAAA championship this year. They fell one step short -- losing two out of three games to Glynn Academy on Saturday to finish as runner-ups for the third time in four years.
Still, the second-place finish gives Evans the right to play host to the first round of the state playoffs, which start Thursday.
"I think we're going to go further than we did last year," Peters said. The team made a first-round exit from the state playoffs last season.
Schuckers said his seniors have provided a mentoring role to the younger players. He believes it's what makes a program successful over a long period of time.
Thompson, the squad's setter and a weak-side hitter, knows this year's success will provide a measuring stick for future squads.
"I think it's going to be higher expectations for girls coming up next year," she said. "We've tried to keep up the good reputation for Evans."
Rivera attributes the team's success to the variety of talents its players bring to the table.
"I think it's the skilled individuals that are on it," said Rivera, who hits and blocks while anchoring the middle up front. "We all have that special niche that we're good at, and we contribute to each other."
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