By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
GUYTON — First things first, says South Effingham first-year volleyball coach Jenna Gerbasi —- make sure the culture of your new team is a positive one.
Next, develop your players’ passion for the game.
“I want them to get the most out of the sport and carry it on outside of sports,” said Gerbasi, who knows the path volleyball can pave.
She’s a graduate of SEHS and began playing volleyball in the program’s second year of existence.
Athletics and academics as a Mustang led her to an education at highly regarded Brenau University in Gainesville. She also played on the Brenau volleyball team.
Gerbasi returned home to teach business. And now, she’s back in business on the SEHS volleyball court teaching and learning.
“I feel like I’m learning (about coaching) every day,” said Gerbasi, who replaced Chancey Garrett. “It seems like something new is always popping up.”
Gerbasi is inheriting a squad that played a brutal schedule in 2020 and finished with just a 9-21 record and out of the state tournament.
In a three-week stretch, the Mustangs played 11 straight matches against state-bound teams (six against squads that advanced to their respective state quarterfinals) and didn’t win a set.
But South has never lacked enthusiasm for volleyball. Gerbasi said team tryouts drew about 70 girls. She kept 26 to field junior varsity and varsity teams.
During the summer, she installed a conditioning program.
“No one likes working until they’re exhausted, but I think they like it knowing this is what you do to get better,” Gerbasi said.
Key outside hitters Emily Schuman and Kayla Arnold have graduated, but some experienced talent remains. Junior setter Avery Kilbourne and senior libero Reese Rexroat contributed last season.
Senior middle hitter Kara Williams and junior outside hitters Bri Phillips and Zoey Long are also back. Senior Reinjeno Talento will be counted on as a defensive specialist.
Gerbasi said some newcomers to watch are sophomore Taylor Perkins, freshman Riley Stringer and junior Hayleigh Sapp.
“We have a young team and it’ll be nice to be able to build that trust together,” Gerbasi said.
SEHS opens the volleyball season on the road Aug. Tuesday against Hilton Head Prep.
The Mustangs get some much-needed playing time with multiple matches Aug. 28 at the Coal Mountain Classic at North Forsyth High School.