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Phillips, Mustangs prepare to show volleyball progress in Brunswick
Brianna Phillips
South Effingham’s Brianna Phillips hits the ball over the outstretched fingers of Effingham County’s Lydia Miller (6) during a 2022 match. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff

By Donald Heath

Special for the Effingham Herald

SAVANNAH — A new volleyball season brought renewed optimism for South Effingham’s Brianna Phillips and her teammates.

The Mustangs won only four matches in 2021. Certainly, 2022 had to be better.

“Right out of tryouts, I could tell we had better chemistry (this year),” Phillips said. “We all bonded well together. I think that was the thing last year. We were all talented individually but we struggled playing as a team.”

A year later, with underclassmen stepping up, seniors improving and the reliable Phillips, now a senior captain, providing a steadying influence, SEHS is up to 18 wins and looking for more at the Region 2-AAAAAA Volleyball Championships on Saturday in Brunswick.

The Mustangs (18-14, 3-3 in region play) enter as the No. 4 seed in the seven-team region and will play fifth-seeded Glynn Academy in their first match.

Effingham County (20-14, 5-1) enters as the No. 2 seed and will play seventh-seeded Brunswick in the first round.

The top four teams from the region tournament advance to state. The region tournament winner will host a four-team group while the other three region teams will play on the road.

“I feel very confident that we can go far. I have high expectations,” Phillips said after playing Habersham and Savannah Arts in a three-team outing at the Jenkins Athletic Center in Savannah on Oct. 4.

Her confidence is well-rooted. As expected, SEHS defeated Habersham in two sets, but maybe giving Class AA’s fourth-ranked Savannah Arts (32-4) a scare wasn’t so predictable. The Panthers, who won an early-season match with the Mustangs 25-11, 25-15, encountered some resistance this time.

SA led only 13-12 before reeling off 12 straight points to take the first set 25-12. Undaunted, South won the second set 26-24 before falling in the third.

Mustangs coach Jenna Gerbasi said Phillips’ influence often makes a difference and was the reason the 5-foot-7 outside hitter was named team captain.

“(Phillips) is a natural leader,” Gerbasi said. “Not only does she get along with everybody, she encourages everybody. Obviously, she’s a talent on the floor. When I asked for input (to name a captain), the girls wanted her. I think they just trust what she says.”

Phillips backs up her words on the court. She’s a key hitter (87 kills) on the front line and stays on the court as a defensive specialist (181 digs) after rotating to the back line.

“I enjoy the chance to lead everybody,” Phillips said. “We have a lot of young talent. I was proud of how we played (against Savannah Arts). That’s a preview of what we’ll see during region.”

Phillips said she probably wouldn’t play volleyball in college. She wants to attend Georgia College and get a teaching degree. She has aspirations of opening a learning center.

But this volleyball season will remain special and Phillips vows to keep an eye on the Mustangs in the future.

“I can’t wait to come back and see how far they progress,” she said. “We’ve all grown together.”