By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
SPRINGFIELD – Effingham County volleyball coach Brittany Lein will count on a number of girls to overcome the loss of a few girls who produced big numbers last season.
And if that happens, she says, the team could be set for another Region 2-6A championship.
"We've lost five seniors who gave us a lot of leadership, but ultimately, we're bringing up more weapons than we lost," Lein said. "Skill-wise, we've had girls grow tremendously in the offseason."
The Rebels (26-16 in 2022) captured their first region title since 2016 and advanced to the state quarterfinals with seniors Cailin Pritchard and Ansleigh Amory leading the way. Pritchard, a middle blocker who signed to play at Emmanuel College, was the region player of the year after registering a team-leading 311 kills and 50 blocks.
And give Amory, a setter, an assist in the success. The four-year starter had a team-leading 347 assists.
But Lein, who played volleyball for the Savannah College of Art & Design, never shies away from giving reserves playing time. Five underclassmen played in 75 of the team's 99 sets.
As a result, a lot of Rebels return with winning experience. They won the region tournament by beating the undefeated regular-season champ Lakeside and avenging a loss to Glynn Academy.
"I think we're in a great place," Lein said. "I think (winning a region championship) creates a name for your program. It proved a competitive point. This is (our) expectation. This is (our) standard of play."
Lein said the excitement of the returning girls carried into the summer and several played on competitive club teams.
Forget about a rebuilding season. ECHS is reloading, she said.
"In past years, we've had two or three dominant hitters but this year we have 2-3 deep all the way across," Lein said.
Senior outside hitter Murphy Boyett (second on the team with 176 kills) is back after an outstanding postseason run. She registered 33 kills in the five region tournament matches and had a season-high 13 kills in a loss to two-time (4A state champion) Marist at state.
Two more seniors, Anaysia Williams and Lydia Miller (90 and 76 kills respectively) add more firepower on the outside along with Chelsea Dennis and Bella Teston.
Jorja Lanham and Kimber Michealis take over at middle blocker.
Bentley Braswell (285 assists) shared time with Amory at setter.
Junior libero Bella Scroggs turned in a solid sophomore year defensively. And when Scroggs missed the Marist state tournament match, then-freshman Bella Giaquinto stepped in off the junior varsity team and played well. Giaquinto has been penciled in as the team's starting defensive specialist this season.
ECHS had a season filled with marquee accomplishments in 2022 – topping Savannah Arts (35-4 record, Class 2A state semifinalist), Woodville-Tompkins (Class A quarterfinalist) and 20-win squads Veterans (at state), Lakeside (at region), rival South Effingham (2-0 twice), Statesboro and Southeast Bulloch.
Lein says her team again will be competitive against a rugged non-region schedule when the Rebels season starts Thursday, Aug. 10, at home against Habersham and New Hampstead.
And when region play begins?
"Our goal is to be region champs again," Lein said.