By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
SPRINGFIELD — Effingham County volleyball coach Brittany Lein begins her eighth year hoping the 2021 Rebels play like they finished 2020.
A year ago, ECHS (14-22) won its last three regular-season matches and upended Glynn Academy (a team it lost against in the regular season) in the Region 2-AAAAAA tournament semifinals to play for a region title against Richmond Hill.
At state, the Rebels avenged a regular-season loss to Evans with a thrilling 3-2 win (16-14 in the fifth set) to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
“I’m excited about this season,” Lein said. “We’ve been so young the last few years, but these girls are invested in getting better and that translates to a better high school team.”
Last season, Lein missed some of the excitement on the court for some excitement off the court, giving birth to a baby girl the day after beating South Effingham.
ECHS labored through a 1-10 start in 2020, but came back to finish 5-1 in region play. The Rebels dropped a regular-season match to Richmond Hill to lose the head-to-head tiebreaker for the region tournament’s top seeding, then lost to the Wildcats in a hard-fought finals.
ECHS lost two-time Region 2-AAAAAA Defensive Player of the Year libero Sara Bevill to graduation. Bevill, who moved on to play at Piedmont College, was the Rebels’ all-time career digs leader with 1,175.
But ECHS returns one of the area’s top hitters, Cailin Pritchard, who plays with highly regarded Club Savannah’s elite Adidas team.
Pritchard, a 5-foot-11 junior, is on pace for 1,000 kills during her prep career, Lein said.
“She’s going to be our powerhouse this year,” Lein said. “She’s such a good hitter we’ll (move her around) on the front row.”
Pritchard will have help. Junior setter Ansleigh Amory is becoming a leader on the team.
Haley Sexton replaces Bevill at libero.
“Haley has ample experience between school ball and club that she can fill that role,” Lien said.
Murphy Boyette, Ansley Coleman and Madeline Neal should make impacts as outside hitters.
Lien said senior Keeda Michaelis, who moved into the area, and freshman Bentley Braswell will be players to watch.
“Knowing what we have coming back and what other people lost, maybe this can be our year,” Lein said. “We just have to make all the puzzle pieces fit.”
ECHS opens its volleyball season today with matches against Richmond Hill and Savannah Country Day.
The Rebels will be back in action Aug. 17 at home against St. Vincent’s.