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Lady Blue Devils are state-bound again
093014 SHS VOLLEYBALL 04
Statesboro's Tess Newton soars while looking for a kill shot against Bradwell Institute at the Devils' Den in this Tuesday, Sept. 30, file photo. In its fourth year as a program, the Blue Devils battled through a brutal Area 3 schedule to secure a spot in the state playoffs this time Class AAAAA for the third-straight season. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

(4) Statesboro at (1) Columbus
5 p.m., Thursday
GHSA Class AAAAA Playoffs

       In the summer of 2011, the Statesboro volleyball team consisted of little more than a court, a net, and a handful of girls willing to try their hand at a new sport.
       Fast forward to the present and the Lady Blue Devils are on their way to a third consecutive state tournament.
       Statesboro made the Class AAAA state playoffs as a second-year program in 2012 and made a return trip last season. This fall, it seemed as though the seniors who had helped to start the program might not get the sendoff they deserved as the Devils’ move up to Class AAAAA put them in a gauntlet of a region.
       “I knew we were getting thrown into the fire,” SHS coach Bob Massee said. “You look around at the teams we had to compete with. There was a state semifinalist from last year, three Elite Eight teams, and three Sweet 16 teams.
       “The level that our girls had to play at in every game was just enormous. ”
       Last weekend, Statesboro traveled to Glynn Academy for its area tournament. The Devils entered play as the No. 6 seed — with only the top four finishers advancing to state competition. Statesboro stunned No. 3 Richmond Hill in the tournament opener, playing one of its best games of the season in beating a Wildcat squad with a pair of Division I prospects on its roster.
       The Devils were pushed to the brink of elimination after a loss to South Effingham, but took down Effingham County Saturday morning to secure a spot in the state tournament.
       Over the weekend, the Devils got contributions from many of the girls who made up that first squad which was more concerned with simply getting the ball over the net than with winning postseason games.
       Alissa Chester , Abby Fernandez , Rachel Hasting, Tori Tindall, Allie Wallace, Chelsea Wilson and Katie Wilson all stuck it out through the harsh learning curve. Once through the early struggles, the group has made a winning name for themselves – one that they hope will stick as the program continues to grow.
       “I was happy,” Massee said of locking up a spot in the state playoffs. “I was just so happy for all of our girls. Looking at the competition we had to face, I was dreading that this tournament might be the last time our seniors who have built this up got to be together. I wasn’t ready for it to end, and thankfully it didn’t.”
       As a reward, the Devils – now a No. 4 seed in the state tournament – draw top seed and defending state champion Columbus in the first round.
       Statesboro has had plenty of practice time as school is out for fall break. They’ll need all of it as they load up the busses on Thursday and make the long trip across the state for a 5 p.m. start.
       “There’s no doubt that we’ve got another big challenge,” Massee said. “But that’s what we want. If we’re going to be in the state playoffs, we want to see how we stack up against the best.
       “If we play our best game. If we pass well and hit all of our serves and can run our offense, I’m excited to see what we can do.”

    Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9408.