Aug. 2—DASHER — Ahead of the start of the regular season, Georgia Christian volleyball hosted nearby rivals Valwood and Highland Christian for Midnight Madness Sunday night.
The scrimmage consisted of continuous games to five for roughly an hour, giving each team a chance to get all of its players a chance to play.
Midnight Madness also signified the first official athletic activity for the newly-branded Georgia Independent Athletic Association (GIAA), formerly known as the GISA.
Valwood head volleyball coach Val Gallahan, the two-time reigning GISA Volleyball Coach of the Year and state champion, gave her thoughts on the preseason scrimmage.
"It was fun," Gallahan said of the event. "It's so nice to have people come out and support and encourage volleyball in our community. It's still something that's growing in South Georgia so it's awesome to be a part of it and get to represent that for the GIAA."
"The biggest thing I noticed is the number of schools that are now participating. We've got what seems like a lot of larger schools coming back from the Macon, Atlanta area. So, the state championship tournament play will now encompass more teams. It'll be a much more difficult road to get there, but we're excited for the challenge."
The road to another state title will get tougher for Gallahan and the Valiants, who lost several seniors from last season's championship team.
"I'm encouraged," Gallahan said of her team heading into the season. "It was nice to be able to see them this week. We really haven't done much over the summer. I try to give the kids a chance to be kids over the summer. This is positive. It was encouraging to see what we were able to do.
"We lost seven seniors last season. We only have five players returning from our last season, so there's a lot of new faces and I'm excited to watch them work hard and really get back to the fun part of coaching."
Gallahan continued, "Oh no, I definitely feel like the bullseye is on our back. My husband (Chad) and I coach club travel ball and we have a pretty high level team of what will be juniors this year. I see some really successful kids on each of their respective teams at Valdosta, at Lowndes, that we've coached during the offseason then end up coaching against them. It's kind of a weird feeling and I'm sure some of those kids want to show out when they play against us."
Heading into her eighth season as the head volleyball coach at Georgia Christian, Carrie Johnson felt that Midnight Madness went well for her group.
"I thought it went well. We had a very good turnout as far as crowd response," Johnson said. "Everyone was super energetic so I think it was good."
As the interest in volleyball in the region continues to climb each year, Johnson acknowledges how well the sport has grown in recent years.
"I think it's grown tremendously," Johnson said. "Myself and also Val, we coach at the club level so we also coach the girls in the offseason from different schools. We're kind of building the entire program. I know there's several different clubs as well, so not only with our schools but we're building with our clubs as well."
Like Valwood, Georgia Christian has won a state championship recently and has seen a lot of its stars graduate and go on to play at the college level.
Johnson admits this season will kickstart a rebuilding project for the team as it looks to identify a new core of players to build around in the coming years.
"We are very young," Johnson said. "I do have one senior and she's less experienced than the rest of them so it's kind of a rebuilding year. We lost a couple of seniors last year, but we did make it to the Final Four so that was a big deal. (This year) is rebuilding, mainly."
Highland Christian head volleyball coach Kevin Phillips called Sunday's Midnight Madness with Valwood and Georgia Christian "very smooth".
"It doesn't really get much better from a competition standpoint than what we got in this gym," Phillips said. "Volleyball has definitely gotten better in the area with school ball, but also with PSVA. We've got some of the best coaches in town working for PSVA and some of the best players that we have around town really are all coming to PSVA. So, between the two, we've got great coaches and players at Valwood, Georgia Christian and Highland."
With the season approaching, Phillips is also fielding a younger team than in years past. The Eagles lost some key seniors from last year's roster. The challenge this season, Phillips said, is to fill in the gaps in experience.
"We've got some younger girls. We lost some really important, key seniors last year," Phillips said. "Obviously, like all new school seasons, we just have to fill in those gaps. We're trying to bring up some of the younger players and get them a little bit more experience."
Shane Thomas is the sports editor at the Valdosta Daily Times.