Lady Panthers sweep South Effingham and Harris County, advance to Elite Eight


Courtesy of Charity Ryan

Freshman Nicole Smith spikes the ball toward the opposition. Smith has just verbally committed to play volleyball at Georgia Tech on a full ride scholarship.

Ben Barkley, Staff Writer

After losing to McIntosh and Whitewater in the region tournament, the Starr’s Mill varsity volleyball team traveled to Harris County High School as the No. 3 seed from 3-AAAAA in the GHSA State Playoffs. The Lady Panthers faced the South Effingham High School Mustangs and the Harris County High School Tigers in rounds one and two, respectively. The Lady Panthers never trailed as they swept both teams to put them into the Elite Eight for the second straight season.

“We struggled a little bit in the second set [against South Effingham], but we got the momentum back in the third set and played really well after that,” head coach Jason Flowers said.

Courtesy of Charity Ryan
The team huddles in prayer before their first match against South Effingham. The Panthers easily defeated both South Effingham and Harris County to move on to the third round of the GHSA AAAAA state playoffs.

Game one against South Effingham was all Starr’s Mill as they went on a 12-0 run in the first five minutes of the set and never looked back after that. The Lady Panthers only allowed eight points for South Effingham in a blowout win 25-8 in the first set.

Game two saw the Lady Panthers continue to shut down the Mustangs, with Starr’s Mill leading 18-7 midway through the game. However, South Effingham made a huge 7-0 run to cut the deficit down to three. Starr’s Mill sealed the deal after that, taking a 2-0 lead in the match with a 25-22 victory.

“The timeout talk was, ‘Hey, we’re giving them confidence. They’re not getting any better physically, we’re just not doing good mentally’,” Flowers said. “We made sure we calmed down, made our passes, and ultimately we sealed the deal.”

Game three was just like game one with the Lady Panthers starting off strong and South Effingham not being able to capitalize. Starr’s Mill pulled away and won game three 25-15, giving them a 3-0 win in the match and a trip to the second round later in the day.

The Lady Panthers had a break after the match, which gave them time to watch their round two opponent, the Harris County High School Tigers, beat the Dutchtown High School Bulldogs in four sets. The Tiger win meant a second round matchup against the Mill.

Game one saw a quick Harris County start that turned into back and forth play throughout the match. However, the Panthers broke free after the score was tied at 19, as the Panthers went on a 6-0 run to close out game 1 with a 25-19 win.

The Panthers started game two on a 5-0 run, but Harris County came back to even the score. After that, the Panthers pulled away with great communication and teamwork to win game two 25-15.

“It took about three or four people to fill up the spot of our missing starter,” Flowers said. ”The girls all played their roles and they were successful.”

Game three started back and forth between the two teams, but the Panthers proved to be too much for the Tigers, eventually going up 19-9. Starr’s Mill only allowed three more points to be scored by Harris County, winning the game 25-12 and the match 3-0 to give the Lady Panthers a spot in the Elite Eight.

“We still need to improve on not having mental lags,” Flowers said. “The first set was closer than it should have been because we had moments when we weren’t playing at our best.”

The Lady Panthers play in the Elite Eight this Saturday against the Riverwood Raiders who defeated Walnut Grove in their second round matchup.  The match begins at 1 p.m. at Riverwood High School.