MOULTRIE – For the third season of varsity volleyball at Colquitt County High, progress will be measured one way: region matches.
The first region win of the 2019 campaign will also be the first in Packer volleyball history. That’s optimistic thinking, of course, and based on how close Colquitt’s girls came to getting a victory over Tift County High in summer scrimmaging play.
To accomplish this, second-year head coach Ron Fowler said the team needs to learn how to win a set, which would mean learning how to finish a set.
It was on Thursday that the new season began on the road at Thomas County-Central. Next week, the Packers will be on William Bryant Court at Colquitt County High School two times for non-region play against Brooks County and Thomasville. These first three opponents were all a part of the big three-day preseason Packer Bash Fowler hosted July 22-24 in order to break up the routine of summer workouts.
“It was good to get the girls game experience against girls who aren’t them,” said Fowler Monday, the first day of the new Colquitt County school term. “Some girls had to step up due to injury and play positions they didn’t normally play. It was a good chance to get a preview of what the season’s going to be like and also deal with some adversity early on when it doesn’t really matter.”
Fowler set up his 11-player varsity roster with two seniors. He also had a second court in the school gym Monday full of junior varsity Packers giving he and assistant coach/wife Sarah Fowler 26 in the program. The offseason workouts began in January, and Fowler said some girls decided volleyball wasn’t for them. But there is a new feeder system for Packer volleyball, middle school teams with around 20 more players developing their skills in match action.
“I think we’re much improved from last year,” he said. “We beat some teams in Packer Bash we didn’t beat last year and we came really close to beating Tift County but just couldn’t close the deal. That was very promising to see. I think we’re definitely closer this year as a team. I noticed that just from the way they were with each other during the summer. The girls have embraced how to be a good teammate. I think it’s really contagious as far as the energy in the gym.”
Volleyball is pretty simple in that you serve the ball over the net in play and prepare to receive hits back your way. That involves digging and passing, and the third hit must go over the net in play. Simple, but not so if the game is still new to you, and the Packers spent two years trying to figure all this out.
“We definitely spent a lot of time working on our serving,” said Fowler. “I think it’s nerves sometimes. In Packer Bash, we’ll have girls who go an entire practice and never miss a serve, then in the game situation here and there miss some. Sometimes it’s just fatigue on the arm serving 11, 13 in a row before they miss one, which is good. We never had anybody come up and serve that many times last year.”
So a Packer practice is half serve-receive and half passing. Again, Fowler said the simplicity of the game at the high school level is that if you out-pass and serve better than the other side you will win most of the time.
“Saralyn (Nelson) is back (at setter) this year, which is a huge advantage,” he said. “She played club ball in Lee County. One of the biggest things in getting the experience is she’s improved as far as being a leader on the court, helping get other girls where they’re supposed to be and seeing things, being that coach we need on the court.”
The seniors are Eknadia McIntyre and Gracie Long. For McIntyre, it’s her first full season on varsity, and Fowler said was quick to go from Lady Packer basketball to volleyball workouts. The remainder of the roster is Grace McKee, Autumn Hampton, Sarah Beth Glass, Riley Claire Robinson, Shadasia Reynolds, Lilly Fykes, Lyla Roberts and Kennedy Fillyaw.
Even without a Region 1-7A win last fall, Colquitt played in the Class 7A playoffs losing in the first round to two-time state champion Walton. Wins in region matches are certainly important to stay out of the last-place slot for state. Camden County was first in the league in 2018 followed by Lowndes and Tift.
“To win a region match, we have to start by winning that first set,” said Fowler. “Which is a hump we’re still trying to get over. We had a chance (at Packer Bash) when we were up on Tift 24-21. We were serving, missed our serve and they beat us 26-24. To win the match, you have to win that first set. I think we are making strides. We’re learning how to finish. The girls last year didn’t really get to play with a lead that often. This summer, we found ourselves a lot of times leading a match to the very end and then losing at the end. It’s good for us that we are leading in the 20s, but the main thing is we have to finish the set, be confident and do what we did at the beginning that got us to that point.”