By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
GUYTON – While lightning and thunder roared outside, South Effingham's middle blocker Clara Vorel made the night unpleasant around the volleyball net for Effingham County.
At the end, the Mustangs closed with the final 10 points, their animated coach Heywood Ellison jumped for joy and a jubilant student cheering section stormed the court on an electric night, Sept. 13.
For the Rebels, a rainy night in Georgia only underscored the disappointment.
South's girls rallied in the first set and finished strong to defeat ECHS 2-0 (27-25, 25-14) for their first win over their county rivals since Aug. 27, 2020 – a span of six matches.
"We knew we had to fight to win so we pushed through as hard as we could and we did it," said Vorel, a 6-foot-3 sophomore whose booming nine kills and seven blocks helped her squad avenge a 2-1 non-region loss to the Rebels about three weeks earlier.
This time, SEHS (11-10, 4-2 Region 2-6A) lost the first five points and trailed 16-8 before mounting a comeback.
The Rebels had two set points at 24-22 and 24-23, but SEHS was hard to discourage.
"Our girls battled and never looked back from there," Ellison said. "I gave them the three Ps (in a pre-game speech) – play with a purpose, play with passion, and play with pace. I think we're a whole lot better when we speed up."
Vorel's kill took care of one set point and her dink over the ECHS front caught the defenders too far back to respond for a dramatic set-winner.
With the momentum shift, the Mustangs jumped ahead 6-1 in the second set, fueled by Riley Stringer's three consecutive service aces.
"It's been frustrating because we just aren't willing to sacrifice (diving to the floor) to dig the ball out," Rebels coach Brittany Lein said. "We have this conversation all the time. We made a lot of careless mistakes."
It was particularly perplexing because ECHS (14-9, 3-3 Region 2-6A) notched one of its best wins of the season only 24 hours earlier against highly regarded St. Vincent's.
The Rebels didn't go down without a fight. Outside hitter Murphy Boyett almost single-handedly swung the momentum to get ECHS back in the set. Boyett's seventh kill sliced South's lead to 15-14.
But Vorel took over down the stretch with three blocks and a kill. Teammates Anna Kate Taylor and Paige Heverly added kills as the Mustangs punched back with a match-ending 10 straight points.
It was a proud moment for Ellison and his girls who only three years earlier suffered through a four-win season.
They won 20 games last year (a 20-18 record and a state tournament berth) and moved to 11-10 this season and will be a No. 3 seed at the Region 2-6A Championship at Grovetown on Oct. 14.
"That was the plan, to change the culture here," Ellison said. "We had a lot of fans out and they really saw what these girls can do. Everyone was cheering for us and I think the girls fed off that. We accomplished Goal No. 1 – beat Effingham. Now we're on to Goal No. 2 – win a region championship."