High School Volleyball
Despite success, ECHS remains ‘hungry’
by Chris Goltermann
From a nucleus of returning players from last year’s Area 3-AAAAAA champions to its new head coach, there’s a common theme to East Coweta’s volleyball program as it opened the 2013 season Wednesday with an equally dominating three-game sweep of Fayette County in a preseason scrimmage at John Thrower Gym.
It revolves around hunger.
“The number one word I would use to describe this group is hungry,” said first-year Lady Indians head coach Amber McClure. “They can’t get enough. We worked out at 6:30 a.m. every morning this summer. Then they came back for individuals at night. They could not get their fill of volleyball. They just want success so bad.”
Over the past three seasons, the Lady Indians have certainly had acquired an appetite for winning. It’s included three consecutive state playoff runs during 20-plus win seasons that included three area titles. The 2012 lineup added a county title to a resume that saw the team put together 25 victories.
But they were also the first local lineup to end their season in the state playoffs.
“We’ve got a taste of this, a taste of that,” said McClure. “Now they want that full package.”
McClure seemed equally excited to return to the varsity level of volleyball after previously coaching Smokey Road’s program. She was both a high school head coach in Indiana as well as a college assistant before moving to Georgia and taking some time off to pursue personal goals, including additional degrees.
“I’m ready,” she said. “I really missed the high school level. This is just a perfect transition. I can’t say how much about how smooth it was for me.”
East Coweta gets that opportunity on Saturday with four consecutive matches at the annual Sequoyah Invitational starting at 2 p.m.
Inheriting a roster that includes the area’s premier player in 6-foot-1 junior outside hitter Jessi Bartholomew and a top-notch setter in senior Sydney Mauer certainly makes for a smooth transition. The duo led the way in a three-game sweep of Fayette that included winning margins of 25-13, 25-9 and 25-10, with East Coweta never trailing at any point of the match.
The two polished off the sweep in game three with a beautifully executed exchange that had Bartholomew digging out a ball and returning to the net to blast a kill off a pass from Mauer for a 22-9 lead.
“Sydney has so much desire. She wants to lead and she’s going places,” McClure said. “And then you have Jesse, who’s powerful and can hit over people.”
But despite graduating three seniors — all of whom make big contributions to last year’s accolades — the returning talent includes plenty of help.
Joining Mauer and Bartholomew is returning libero Savannah Freeman to anchor the defense.
“She’s that quiet, serious player and she’s just so dependable,” said McClure of Freeman, also among East Coweta’s four seniors with right-side hitter Abby Blum and defender April Schmidt.
Schmidt started game one while Blum started game three on Wednesday.
Besides the 6-1 Bartholomew, opponents will face a sizable group of hitters that also includes sophomore Dominique Ingram on the inside and junior Haylea Mannebach.
Each were involved in key points during Wednesday’s match, including a kill by Mannebach during a 6-0 run in game two that broke a tie game early into East Coweta’s favor for good.
Ingram equally made good on an errant cross-court shot late in the match, with Mauer again setting up her middle hitter on the next available opportunity with a perfectly-placed kill to the back-left corner of the floor.
“I was really proud of Sydney for going back to her. That shows a lot of confidence in Dominique,” McClure said. “Dominique’s going to have hands on every ball she can. And the seniors are seeing the court better in the last couple weeks.”
Also getting ample playing time at outside hitter on Wednesday was junior Casey Padgett, a player with a “high volleyball IQ,” said her coach.
Elizabeth Schramm and Katie Jones also add depth while newcomers Sydney Winters and Riley Padgett expect to get their share of playing time immediately. Schramm’s service, including back-to-back aces, helped lead East Coweta in game three.
“I’m just ready to start,” admitted McClure.