By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
SPRINGFIELD — Cailin Pritchard and Ansleigh Amory say their chemistry on and off the volleyball court began in seventh grade.
“We started playing volleyball together and we became friends. We had that connection,” Amory said.
Five years later, the girls are seniors at Effingham County High School, providing a one-two punch for a volleyball team hoping to flatten its competition.
The Rebels (22-19 last season) opened their season Monday against Calvary and Habersham, collecting a sweep.
South Effingham opens Thursday at Savannah Arts.
Pritchard is a 5-foot-11 middle hitter who led the Rebels last season with 326 kills. Amory, a 5-4 setter with a team-leading 419 assists, usually puts the ball in the right position for success.
Pritchard has 757 career kills. Amory has 1,114 career assists.
“Without a hitter-setter connection you don’t have an offense,” ECHS coach Brittany Lein said. “We’re very fortunate to have some great hitting and setting connections. Those are connections you establish early. Hitters definitely hit better off of certain setters and it’s a matter of finding that right combination.”
Chemistry in volleyball isn’t unlike other sports. In football, quarterbacks and wide receivers spend countless hours working on their timing. In baseball, shortstops and second basemen work at seamless exchanges to turn double plays.
Pro basketball fans rarely mention Stockton without mentioning Malone.
For ECHS volleyball, it’s often “Amory to Pritchard.” Before last season, they gained more repetitions playing for Club Savannah outside of high school.
“(For a middle hitter), the set has to be precise,” Pritchard said. “Our connection with setting is something we talk about all the time.”
Both girls were first-team All-Region 2-AAAAAA performers a year ago along with teammate Ansley Coleman.
“We can force the (opposing) defense to play differently by lining up Cailin in different spots,” Lein said. “It gives us a lot of openings.”
The Rebels’ other skillful hitters took advantage. Murphy Boyette finished with 158 kills, Madeline Neal had 111 kills and Coleman added 94 kills.
“That’s the game of volleyball, you have to get a kill,” Amory said.
Pritchard also led the Rebels with 65 blocks, a 93.1 serving percentage and 76 aces.
Amory, who can play libero, displayed her versatility in the return game, allowing Lein to use a 6-2 alignment (two setters).
With five key seniors returning, Lein is optimistic about the upcoming season. ECHS went to the Sweet Sixteen at state last year before losing to Pope – a semifinalist that lost to eventual state champion Buford 3-2.
The Rebels finished third in the region, but No. 1 Statesboro and No. 2 Richmond Hill are no longer in the region.
“We’ve had good teams the last few years and we’ve been right there (for a chance to win a region championship),” Lein said. “I think with five seniors and five juniors we have a little more leadership on this team. We came in on Day One ready to build on what we established during the summer.”