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Tough competition helps Rebels improve
Cailin Pritchard
Effingham County middle blocker Cailin Pritchard returns the ball during an Aug. 16 home match against Richmond Hill. - photo by Gilbert Miller

By Donald Heath

Special for the Effingham Herald

SAVANNAH — Effingham County’s volleyball team held a 15-point lead in the first set against Savannah Country Day last Thursday when Rebels coach Brittany Lein entered substitutes.

Suddenly, the advantage slipped to seven and Lein called a timeout to restock the lineup with starters.

A laugher at the start became a lot harder but ECHS held on 25-16 and 25-23 to gain a split in a tri-match that included undefeated host Savannah Arts.

“We gave some bench players some playing time and you have to commit to them for a period,” Lein said. “They have to figure it out. They’re not going to learn if you take them out after making one mistake.”

Make no mistake, Lein looks to guide a talented team a little farther than a year ago, when it won 22 games and advanced to the second round of the state playoffs. Getting an experienced starting group a little better day by day and adding depth could make a big difference.

ECHS finished third in its region last season, but after realignment, No. 1 Statesboro and No. 2 Richmond Hill are residing elsewhere. The Rebels will be looking for their first region volleyball championship since 2017.

So Lein beefed up her non-region schedule. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

The Rebels are off to a 5-3 start. The three losses came against teams — St. Vincent’s (6-1), Richmond Hill (9-1) and Savannah Arts (8-0) —with a combined 23-2 record.

ECHS has a 2-0 win over Calvary (6-2) and won a set while playing Richmond Hill tough.

“We’re stacking our schedule to play great teams.” Lein said. “We’re finding the mistakes we’re making when we play those teams and working on those (mistakes) in practice.

“My girls have been playing together for a long time in club ball, school ball so there aren’t a lot of changes and we’re able to fine-tune things. Instead of just playing in general spots, we’re going where we are supposed to be based on the block.”

And some youngsters are coming along. Sophomores libero Bella Scroggs and setter Bentley Braswell, who teamed to lead Ebenezer Middle School to a title in 2019, have played well.

During ECHS’ first varsity match Thursday against undefeated Savannah Arts, the Rebels trailed only 22-20 in the first set before the Panthers squeaked by 25-22. SAA won the second set convincingly, 25-13.

ECHS roared back against Savannah Country Day by taking an 18-3 lead in the first set behind five kills from senior middle blocker Cailin Pritchard during the early run.

But SCD was hard to discourage and the final points of the first set and the entire second set were played on even terms with the Rebels.

Lein says the experience of navigating through tough matches is welcomed at this point of the season. On Tuesday, ECHS will begin region play with Glynn Academy and take on cross-county rival South Effingham in a non-region showdown at home.

“We know we’re going to be battling with some teams,” Lein said.