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War Eagles too tall for Rebels
Bella Giaquinto
Rebels libero Bella Giaquinto keeps the ball alive at the back line Saturday. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff

By Donald Heath

Special for the Effingham Herald

SPRINGFIELD — Effingham County’s volleyball team faced a tall task against Marist in the second round of the Class AAAAAA state tournament Saturday.

And after a hard-fought, four-set match, height held off heart.

The War Eagles, winners of Class AAAA state championships the last two years, ended the Rebels season with a 3-1 victory.

ECHS finished with a 26-16 record — the team’s 26 victories were the most for the school since at least 2008, according to records kept by Internet site MaxPreps.

“I feel like I just watched the girls play their best three sets of the season, take that fourth one out of there,” Rebels coach Brittany Lein said. “We had a great season. We were region champions. How exciting is that? 

“The girls fought so hard mentally. I couldn’t be more proud.”

But ECHS couldn’t overcome the big hitting from the taller Marist girls. The Rebels stayed close in the early going and, despite losing the first set 25-18, came back to take the second set 25-18 to even the best-of-five set match.

The War Eagles from Atlanta jumped out to a 13-7 lead in the third set but ECHS whittled the deficit to two on five occasions (15-13, 16-14, 17-15, 20-18 and 21-19) before falling 25-20.

The Rebels were tied 7-7 in the fourth set before Marist went on a 7-0 run to take a 14-7 lead, eventually clinching the match 25-13.

“I think this was our best game of the season,” ECHS senior middle blocker Cailin Pritchard said. “We’ve had some highs and lows but we really put up a fight with them. I’m not sad we lost because it was a good match, but playing four years and now it’s the last game.”

Pritchard, who became only the second player at ECHS to top 1,000 kills in her career, played well and had five kills and a block in the Rebels’ winning set.

And she was asked to slide to the outside to defend Marist’s power-hitting Caroline Short.

Murphy Boyett had key kills throughout the day and setters Ansleigh Amory and Bentley Braswell helped control the offense.

ECHS’ defense missed libero Bella Scroggs, who didn’t practice throughout the week.

Freshman Bella Giaquinto, who played on the junior varsity team most of the season, stepped in.

“To come in and tell a freshman she’d be starting today and have her hold her own, I couldn’t be more proud of her,” Lein said.

The Rebels advanced to the second round of state by defeating Veterans High School 3-0 on Oct. 19.

“We had a great season,” Lein said. “We beat Savannah Arts, played our hearts out against Islands, went to three sets with Richmond Hill twice. You only get better by playing better competition. If we didn’t, we couldn’t have played against the level I knew we’d see at this point. While our record doesn’t always show how good we are, we had some phenomenal wins this year.”

It was a good season for local volleyball overall. South Effingham (20-18) improved from four wins in 2021 to 20 this season.

The Mustangs, led by key underclassmen in the starting six, had a big win against Glynn Academy midway through the season and won a set from nearby powerhouse Savannah Arts.

SEHS placed fourth at the region tournament to advance to state and gave Region 1 champion Houston County, a 27-win team, a battle before losing in four sets, 27-25, 25-22, 23-25 and 25-17 on Oct. 19.