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Yellow Jacket volleyball continues forward march

    Progression is defined as a movement or development towards a certain goal, and it’s what every program strides for in their early stages.
    Southeast Bulloch’s volleyball program and its coach Stephanie Harrelson have progressed alongside one another. Harrelson has grown as a person and a coach while her team has become a much bigger part of SEB’s athletic brand, but it took a lot of self-evaluation for her to get to this point.
    “I’m from up North and I do things very by the books. I think I was too business and serious with the girls at first,” Harrelson said. “My assistant coach came in and has helped me self-evaluate and realize these are high school girls. It’s volleyball, so let’s have fun.”
    Since Harrelson has learned to lighten up on her players, the progress has been more than apparent on the court. After starting from scratch with just a JV team in 2012, the Yellow Jackets went 12-18 with a fourth place area finish in 2013. Then in 2014 SEB jumped to 21-13 with a third place area finish, followed by a 23-12 2015 and a second place area finish.
    Naturally, Harrelson believes the progression will follow once again in 2016.
    “I really think this year we’re going to take first,” Harrelson said.
    You can’t build a program from the ground up without a real passion for the sport you coach, and that’s a point Harrelson made from the get-go. With no middle school feeder and the travel team brand new to Statesboro, Harrelson has leaned on the interests and drive of the high schoolers to build up to what she has now – a team with six seniors who all play significant roles on an area-championship caliber team.
    “We always have good kids and there is a lot of interest. The kids have a lot of heart and they’re not just coming out here to say I’m on the SEB volleyball team,” Harrelson said. “I apply what I know and they just follow through. They have the drive and the initiative and they make it easy for me because they want to succeed.”
    Sure, the flip side to having six seniors is next year will probably be a rebuilding year for SEB — but for now the Yellow Jackets will have a lot to look forward to. The team has come out of the gates strong this season with a 7-3 record and six of those seven wins have come via sweep. Their only losses have come to Savannah Arts Academy and Islands High School, who finished No. 7 and No. 14 in the AAA rankings last season.
    However, SEB — who finished 2015 ranked No. 17 in Class AAA — still have some skills to tighten up on before they can overtake the area crown for the first time in school history.
    “We need to work on our rotations for offense as well as our serve-receive,” Harrelson said. “We pretty much just need to keep a constant attack and not mentally break down. Against Savannah Arts we broke down and played tentative after we had played them so well in the second game.”
    The good thing going for SEB is the continuity between their players. Seniors Cierra Jordan and Sunni Williams were adamant about the chemistry on the squad this year — a chemistry that’s developed over many trips to waffle house together and hanging out after school.
    “Coming to practice is the favorite part of my day,” Williams said. “We are all friends outside of practice and school. This is a team who’ll pick each other up when we’re down. No one ever feels excluded.”
    Williams and Jordan also echoed their coach’s belief on winning Area 3 — even though all three acknowledged Islands would be the team standing in their way of that luscious area title. In SEB’s new area, the Yellow Jackets will avoid Savannah Arts in their area tournament — which knocked SEB out in the area final a year ago.
    “Islands has a very strong defense with stronger hitters to go with it,” Jordan said. “But they lost a lot of seniors and their coach. They won’t have the continuity that we do.”
    SEB will have another shot against Islands at home on Thursday, but will play next on the road Tuesday against region foes Beach and Johnson at 5 p.m.