By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
SPRINGFIELD – Effingham County and South Effingham each defeated two of their three Augusta-area volleyball opponents at the region play date Sept. 9.
But it was evident at ECHS' gym there's still a sizable gap between undefeated Lakeside and the Rebels, Mustangs and the rest of Region 2-6A.
ECHS and SEHS had similar efforts in losing 2-0 to the Panthers, leaving today's (Sept. 13) Rebels-Mustangs region matchup at South Effingham most likely a battle for third-place in the region standings.
The final standings become the seedings for the double-elimination region tournament which will be held Oct. 14 at Grovetown High School.
"I think last year we learned anything can happen (at the region tournament)," Mustangs coach Heywood Ellison said. "We went in thinking no one was going to beat Lakeside (after the Panthers went undefeated in region play) and they finished third."
Both ECHS and SEHS needed a Saturday sweep of the play date to be in the running for a No. 1 seed. The play date allowed the Augusta-area schools – Lakeside, Evans and Grovetown – an opportunity to play all their region games with South Effingham, Effingham County, Glynn Academy and Brunswick at a centralized location, cutting down travel expenses.
Both the Mustangs and Rebels lost region matches with Glynn Academy on Aug. 22 so the Red Terrors entered Saturday's play atop the region standings.
But Lakeside beat Glynn 2-0 – 25-6 in the second set – to set the tone for the play date.
Locally, South had the first shot at Lakeside. The Mustangs fell behind the powerful hitting Panthers 13-5 in the first set. They made a small push to close within 17-12 but Lakeside never let the Mustangs get closer in a 25-14 first-set win.
South led the second set 4-2 and was tied at 10 before Lakeside went on an 8-1 run to close out the match 25-13.
"Once (Lakeside) got into a groove, they became hard to slow down," Ellison said.
SEHS (9-9, 2-2 Region 2-6A) defeated Evans 2-0 in its first match of the day and ended with a hard-fought 2-1 (15-11 third set) win over Grovetown.
"I thought we could have played better, but we beat the two teams we should have beaten," Ellison said. "Now we've seen all the teams (in the region). Nothing should be a surprise (in the region tournament)."
Effingham County (10-6, 2-2 Region 2-6A) beat Grovetown and Evans 2-0 before its showdown with Lakeside. The Rebels benefitted from the Panthers' hiccup at the region tournament last year en route to its first region championship since 2016.
Saturday, ECHS led Lakeside 7-2 after Bella Teston's kill and still held an 11-8 advantage before the Panthers struck for six straight points to go ahead. The visitors scored the final eight points to win Set 1, 25-14.
"We started with all the energy, but we made some errors and we started to play scared," Rebels coach Brittany Lein said. "We had some miscommunication and just couldn't figure out how to come back. I think some of our fight was gone.
"Lakeside was a good team. They're undefeated for a reason."
In the second set, the Rebels were tied 8-8 after Anaysia Williams' kill, but again the Panthers broke away at mid-set, making a 13-11 lead insurmountable with six straight points before winning set 2, 25-14.
Lakeside raised its record to 24-0, 4-0 in region play. The Panthers have lost only three sets this season.
"We have a month before we see all these teams again," Lein said. "If you look at what happened last year, we were all seeded going into the region tournament and we all came out differently.
All we can do as a team is get better for October. We know what we need to work on. We have to work hard and take practice seriously to get better."