By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
BRUNSWICK — Effingham County’s volleyball players used heart and determination to shrug off adversity and exhaustion Saturday afternoon at the Region 2-AAAAAA Volleyball Championships at Brunswick High School.
The second-seeded Rebels came out of the losers’ bracket of the double-elimination tournament to post gritty victories over Lakeside 2-0 and Glynn Academy 3-1 — their third and fourth wins of the nine-hour day — to capture their first region title since 2016.
“It was a big wave of emotion,” ECHS coach Brittany Lein said. “We worked really hard for this. We’ve had our ups and downs. We swam in the depths of the dark blue ocean many times during this season, but this was the end goal and these girls deserve it more than anybody.”
The Rebels (25-15) advanced to the Class AAAAAA state tournament and will host Veterans High (23-12) on Wednesday in the first round.
South Effingham also accomplished a memorable milestone Saturday by winning a key match against Grovetown to finish fourth at region and advance to state.
The Mustangs (20-17) will travel to Houston County (24-12) for a first-round match.
“I’m going to remember this night for the rest of my life,” ECHS outside hitter Murphy Boyett said “We really pushed through the whole day. Even though we were exhausted, we all pushed and made the effort to win this championship. It’s amazing.”
Boyett’s powerful hitting led the Rebels’ comeback and her two perfectly placed serves that caught Glynn players in moments of indecisiveness for the final two points of the third set (a 25-22 win to take a 2-1 lead) sent signals that a championship wasn’t far away.
ECHS jumped out to a 13-4 advantage in the fourth set before winning 25-18 and starting a celebration of hugs, tears and photos with the trophy.
“We got the edge mentally and we were tougher and Glynn was wearing down,” Lein said. “That’s when you have to push harder.
The grueling day started at 9 a.m. and took numerous twists and turns. Lakeside entered the tournament as a No. 1 seed after going undefeated in the region during the regular season.
ECHS’ only loss in the region came in straight sets to Lakeside.
But at the region tournament, Lakeside was upset by fifth-seeded Glynn Academy in the second round. The Terrors showed the win wasn’t a fluke by knocking off ECHS 2-0 in the third round.
It eventually paired the Rebels and Panthers — Nos. 1 and 2 during the regular season — in a losers’ bracket match with the loser falling to a No. 3 at state.
But ECHS avenged the regular season loss. Boyett, a 5-foot-9 junior, finished with six kills, including a slam on match point to take the second set 25-23, sending the Rebels to the championship match and a rematch with Glynn.
“Murphy’s been killing it lately,” Lein said. “I couldn’t ask more from her. She’s so mentally tough. Without her, I don’t know where we’d be. She kicked some butt today and that’s what I needed from her.”
Boyett had plenty of help. Cailin Pritchard contributed big hits and defensively helped neutralize the power hitters of Lakeside and Glynn.
Madeline Neal, Lydia Miller and Anaysia Williams added kills at critical times, setters Ansleigh Amory and Bentley Braswell distributed the ball to put their hitters in good position and sophomore libero Bella Scroggs led one of the team’s best defensive days.
CHS lost its first set against the Red Terrors 25-23 after seeing a 20-15 lead slip away.
The Rebels’ heart and fortitude kicked in — with a little prodding.
“During every timeout, I kept telling them, ‘You can not give up. I know your legs hurt, your body hurts, everything hurts, but you have to execute and work hard,’ ” Lein said. “I’m so proud of them.”
South Effingham coach Jenna Gerbasi felt similar pride for her group’s fourth-place effort. The Mustangs won only four matches a year ago but improved to 20 this season.
SEHS, the fourth seed heading into the region tournament, lost to Glynn to begin the day but rebounded to beat Grovetown in two tough sets 25-23 and 25-19.
The Mustangs were eliminated by Lakeside but gave the Panthers a scare, leading the second set 19-18 before falling 25-22.
Versatile Riley Stringer, middle blocker Clara Vorel and outside hitter Brianna Phillips were key contributors and moving Brianna Coffee to libero helped the defense, Gerbasi said.
“I’m pumped. It’s the first time we’re going to state since my seniors were freshmen,” Gerbasi said. “I’m proud of them. I’m happy how our season has gone. They worked together and dug deep. I’m excited to see how we do in the first round.”