On Saturday, October 16, at Rock Springs Academy, the Lady Patriots did what had seemed impossible only three months before, winning their sixth state title in seven seasons, defeating a tenacious Veritas Academy squad in three straight sets. When asked to define this storybook season in a single word, Coach Susan Barry said, “Growth.”
When the 2021 Lady Patriots Volleyball team first set foot on the practice court in July, a few weeks before school began, they had little idea what lay ahead, but they knew it would take work, work, and more work. With three starters gone, including Savannah’s 2020 Volleyball Player of the Year, Jordan Christy, the two returning seniors, Jenna Kate Welch and Anna Thompson, had their work cut out for them—and so did Coach Barry, with a roster of young varsity players.
“Anna and Jenna Kate knew it was their time to step up and lead,” Barry said. “And they very much wanted to lead—but they needed to learn how. They needed to grow. Everyone did.”
This was no easy season, the Lady Patriots facing a tough schedule against area powerhouses like Richmond Hill, Islands, and Savannah Arts. The players had to dig deep in match after match against larger teams with deeper benches. Seniors Welch and Thompson had to fight for the right to lead their teammates, encouraging them during practice and in games, helping younger and more inexperienced players stay positive and passionate even in tough losses. Sophomore setter Lucy Kelly showed her mettle throughout the season, providing balance and ballast as everyone learned to work in harmony.
The team—two seniors, one junior, seven sophomores, two freshmen, and an eighth grader—had much to learn: how to move on the court together, how to communicate, when to take the ball, and when to move behind a teammate in support. Work, sweat, and dogged persistence was required of everyone, balancing the stresses of demanding schoolwork and long hours of practice. Several of the players—sophomores Simmons Key and Lauren O’Hern, freshman Izabel Arvin, and eighth grader Brownie Olson—played on both the JV and varsity teams, requiring additional games and hours of practice every day.
“Everyone had to work, and work some more,” Barry said. “They had to learn that wanting it isn’t enough. They had to endure frustrations. They didn’t merely have to grow, they had to invite the growth, to welcome it.”
This season provided many memorable moments when the team’s individual and collective growth revealed itself, none more so than a brutal match with rival Veritas Academy in the final round of the region tournament on Friday, October 8, where Habersham roared back from a 2-1 deficit to win the final two sets and earn a #1 seed in the state playoffs, setting up a victory against Central Christian (3-0) on October 12, a semifinal win against Oakwood Christian (3-0) on October 16, and a rematch with an aggressive Veritas squad that same night in the final.
“In the first set of the championship match, they started a little tight,” Barry said, “so I called a timeout and told them to just go be themselves. I’d never have told them that at the beginning of the season, but they’d earned the right to just go be themselves and play.”
She told them to have fun. To be themselves. There were smiles all around. They believed. They had grown, and they knew it. The Lady Patriots hit the court after that timeout and never looked back, winning the title game in straight sets, 3-0. They ended the season 20-22 overall with a perfect record in region play (6-0) and in the state playoffs (5-0). Seniors Jenna Kate Welch and Anna Thompson and sophomore Lucy Kelly were named to the All-State Team.
“Watching the matches on Saturday, I felt so joyful,” said Barry. “It was so fun to watch them play without worry or hesitation—to be themselves and play.”