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GCHS volleyball team looking to make big strides in 2021 despite COVID, coaching changes
By BRAD CROWE
Greene County High School has kicked off its fifth official season of competitive volleyball. And, with a few familiar names bringing experience to the floor and a few new faces calling the shots, the Wildcats are eager to get back on the floor and show just how far the team has come since 2017.
The Lady Wildcats enter the season under new leadership for the fourth time in five seasons, although new head coach Stacy Eubanks is certainly no stranger to the team or the community. As Chief of Campus Police for the Greene County School District and father of Olivia Eubanks — the first GCHS graduate to sign a volleyball scholarship — he couldn’t say no to the opportunity to help the program he spent the past three years rooting for.
“My daughter plays at Mississippi University for Women, and she was a part of the team here for the past few years, so when the former coach (Laurie Wyatt) moved and they asked me to step in, I decided I’d give it my best shot,” Eubanks said.
Eubanks learned a lot about the game while following and supporting his daughter and the Wildcats’ volleyball team. He knows there are plenty more things to learn, however, and is embracing the new challenge.
“I know more than your average bear,” Eubanks joked. “Olivia has helped us a lot — in fact, that’s her working with the team as we speak. The coaches from Pearl River Community College came out and worked with us for a day, and other coaches in the area have been gracious enough to share advice and help us put these girls in the best position to succeed.”
Senior team member Brooke Byrd, whose class will be just the second to take part in the program through all four years of high school, says she and her teammates have been overwhelmed with gratitude for their new coaching staff and others who have gone the extra mile to help them prepare for the 2021 season.
“It’s been amazing how many people have pitched in to help with our program,” Byrd said. “We’ve had many people over the years support and help our program grow. I would say that each year we’ve learned more and more about the sport.”
“The coaching staff is very supportive, both on and off the court. They always motivate us to be our best, but most importantly to just have fun and enjoy ourselves. It’s been a pleasure working with all of them.”
Byrd is one of five seniors returning to the squad this fall, joining Kendell Smith, Charleigh Stewart, Emilee Pearce and Sade Woullard for one last ride in what has been an unforgettable experience.
Making it even more unforgettable are the abnormal circumstances the group has endured for the past two years due to COVID-19. Last year’s campaign was cut short after 16 games for the Wildcats, and although things have gone more smoothly so far in 2021, Smith said she and her teammates have taken extra precautions in order to strengthen their chance to see this season all the way through.
“We will definitely have some stories to tell later on in life,” Smith said of the pandemic. “Preparing for this season actually went pretty smoothly, aside from replacing our coach, but we still tried to steer clear of COVID and take precautions. I feel like this summer was easier because we kind of knew about the virus and how things needed to be done. Last summer it hit us out of nowhere, and we were completely shocked about what was going on around us.”
So far so good for the Wildcats, who kicked off the season last Thursday with a home victory over the Class 5A South Jones Braves. Eubanks said he and his staff were really proud of the performance and look forward to carrying positive momentum into their second showdown on Thursday when they play host to Wayne County.
“South Jones is a very good team,” Eubanks said. “Our girls showed a lot of grit and worked hard as a team to get a win. We stayed within our system and served the ball accurately, and that’s how you win volleyball games.”
The Wildcats had a few more scheduled home games and six on the road between this Thursday and their first tournament appearance, which is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 18 at Gulfport High School. However, COVID-19 has cancelled all games on the schedule through Aug. 26. After the Gulfport tournament they’ll wrap up the regular season with five home games and one on the road.
Greene County will compete against Purvis, Sumrall, Columbia and Forrest County AHS in region play this fall. If all goes well for the Wildcats, Eubanks and his players hope to be in the mix when postseason play begins on Thursday, Oct. 7.
“We’re really excited for these girls. They’re all in,” Eubanks said. “They’re dedicated, they want to learn and you could see the product of that on the floor during our first win against South Jones; so we’re eager to keep working and hopefully have a season that this team and community can be proud of.”