McDONOUGH — There are several Henry County volleyball programs poised to make deep runs in the postseason season, among them is Eagle’s Landing High.
The Lady Golden Eagles started the season with less players on their roster than their Region 4-AAAAA rivals. Then, injuries cut the team’s numbers even further. Eagle’s Landing head coach Joel Kellogg has had to play with a shortened rotation this season, as only eight players have participated in at least 45 sets thus far.
“We are blessed to have a small group of girls who can pretty much play anywhere on the court,” Kellogg said. “Most of the team are seniors who have been in the Eagle’s Landing program for six years now and have meshed and gelled in a way that we haven’t had a chance to see yet. Each year I ask the girls to set the bar a little bit higher for the younger girls coming up, and this group has definitely done that.”
Eagle’s Landing got off to a good start at the Gibbs Garage Classic, an annual volleyball tournament hosted by Luella and Locust Grove high schools. The Lady Golden Eagles took down a number of programs, reaching the gold bracket for the first time in school history.
Success in the early season tournament has boosted the Lady Golden Eagles to a 21-6 overall record. Eagle’s Landing is currently in a three-way tie with Locust Grove and Ola for second place in Region 4.
“I think we have proven that we can play at that high level where we want to be playing. One thing I love about these girls is that they do not back down from a fight,” Kellogg said. “They like the challenge and they want to prove themselves. We have a few really good chances against some tough opponents coming up where they are really going to be tested. The girls are excited about that and are hungry for that region title.”
Eagle’s Landing has relied on three seniors — Erin Sampson, Chaillin Lewis and Kristen Watts — to play in the majority of the team’s sets. Sophomore Jalisa Dunlap has also participated in 60 sets, while senior Nia Rideout and sophomore Destinee Hardamon have played in more than 55 sets.
Kellogg’s tight-knit group has given the team confidence even after suffering tough injuries to key players early on.
“We lost one of our best defensive players to a knee injury the first week of practice,” Kellogg said. “We have definitely felt her absence, but like I said, we have girls that we can pretty much put anywhere and they can get the job done. A couple of our hitters have been playing all the way around for us and really stepping up and doing a getting the job done. Specifically, Jalisa Dunlap is one of our sophomore outside hitters who went from junior varsity last year to playing literally ever point for us this season. Chailin Lewis, our Libero, has also done a great job of leading our defense through example.”
Kellogg said that fewer numbers has only really been an issue at practice.
“Without that deep bench that we had last year it has been somewhat difficult for us to get a good challenge at practice,” Kellogg said. “The girls and I have had to get creative and find new ways to challenge ourselves. Whether I put some junior varsity girls or anyone else on the other side of the court, most of our drills at practice are designed around us playing against and beating ourselves.”
The regular season is slowly coming to an end for Eagle’s Landing. It’s one of the best years of volleyball Kellogg and his program have experienced, and even with less players than their rivals, the Lady Golden Eagles still have aspirations of a state playoff run.
“We may be a small team, but we have girls who can play really big,” Kellogg said. “We have to do a good job of encouraging each other, we literally don’t have any other choice.”