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Statesboro crashing the state playoff party

For a team that was created less than two years ago, 12 goals is a pretty big list of expectations.

But 12 goals for the 2012 season is exactly what the Statesboro Lady Blue Devils volleyball team laid out for itself before their first match back in August.

Now, on the eve of the state playoffs, all 12 of those goals have been checked off of the list and the Devils still have plenty of volleyball to play. At the Area 2-AAAA tournament held in Augusta last Saturday, Statesboro notched a third place finish and a spot in the state playoff field in just its second season of competition.

"As hopeful as you want to be, this would have been hard to imagine at the beginning of the year," said SHS coach Bob Massee. "It’s incredible how hard these girls have worked and how far they have come."

In their inaugural season, the Devils won just one match. An improvement on that record was written down on that list of goals. Statesboro wanted to aim for six match victories. The Devils are currently at 18… and counting.

A good showing in the regular season put Statesboro in position to make the state playoff field, but there was still work to be done last weekend.

Needing a victory over Glenn Hills to get into state, the Devils dropped their first set. With their backs against the wall, the Devils looked much more like a team of seasoned veterans than a squad of girls who didn’t have a single game of organized volleyball experience between them heading into the 2011 season. Statesboro rallied to take the next two sets and win the match, then took down Richmond Hill — again coming back after losing the first set — to clinch the No. 3 seed coming out of the area.

"Volleyball is such a physically and mentally demanding sport," said Massee. "For a team as young and inexperienced as ours, it would be easy to roll over when we get down and just move on to the next game. That’s not what I’ve seen. Over the last three weeks, I’ve been amazed with our toughness and our willingness to keep battling."

When the comeback against Glenn Hills was completed and the Devils were assured of a spot in the postseason, it took a few minutes for their massive accomplishment to register.

"They couldn’t quite wrap their heads around it," said Massee. "Toward the middle of the season, we started thinking that getting (to the state playoffs) could be a possibility, but to keep playing well and actually do it was just incredible."

And all of the Devils’ success is due to a total team effort. With the entire roster starting from square one last season, there have been no superstars to help carry the Devils up the steep learning curve. All 12 members of the varsity team see plenty of playing time in each match, resulting in a team that has truly grown up as one unit rather than a few girls rising to take on opponents by themselves.

Tess Newton and Chelsea Warren have become a formidable tandem at their outside hitter positions while Maggie Rae and Katie Wilson key the offense as setters. Chante Branch has become a dependable libero and Tori Thompson — the lone senior on the team — provides leadership and steady play as part of a group of talented middles.

"As long as I’ve been in the game, I’ve never seen a team where all 12 players are so involved in each match," said Massee. "Everybody has contributed. With us learning the ropes, that’s really the way it’s had to be."

Statesboro will play its first ever state tournament match Wednesday as the Devils travel to Forsyth to take on No. 2 seen Mary Persons. The start time of the best-of-three match is still to be determined.

"For the last few weeks, we’ve broken each huddle with ‘Finish!’ to encourage ourselves to fight until the end," said Massee. "We’ve done a lot of great things and taken some big strides this season, but we’re not finished yet."

Perhaps during Wednesday’s bus ride, some new goals will be added to that list.


Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.