Troup volleyball team eager for challenge
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
They’re hoping to make history.
The Troup High volleyball team has reached the second round of the state playoffs before, but it has never made it beyond that point.
Troup will get a chance to make that happen on Saturday when it faces home-standing Columbus in a Class AAAA state-playoff showdown.
The winner will advance to the state quarterfinals to play Cedartown or Jefferson.
Troup earned its spot in the second round with a road win over Thomas County Central last week.
Troup, which finished third in its area tournament, beat Thomas County Central in straight sets.
After taking the first set 25-18, Troup won the second and third sets by an identical 26-24 score to keep its season alive.
“We knew we didn’t want the season to end,” said Landen Sheets, one of five seniors on the team. “We knew walking into that game, we had to give it our all to keep this season going. We were playing for something, not just to win or lose. We were playing for each other, to go as far as we could. We weren’t ready to say goodbye yet.”
Another one of the seniors, Macy Jeter, was also fully aware of what a loss would have meant.
“We’re seniors, so if we lose, that’s it,” Jeter said.
The Lady Tigers’ task grew even more challenging when they found out they were going to have to play without three key players who had to be quarantined.
Some junior-varsity players were called up to lend a hand, and they helped Troup pull out the hard-fought win.
“They’d never really played with us, so what if they don’t know how we play, but they’d seen us in practice,” Jeter said. “They were ready. Yesterday they showed out.”
This is Troup’s second trip to the second round in three seasons.
In 2018, Troup beat North Forsyth in the first round before falling to Marist.
Now Troup is back in the second round, and Columbus is standing in the way of that breakthrough trip to the quarterfinals.
“If we win this game, we’ll be the first Troup team to make it to the elite eight,” Sheets said. “So that’s really pushing us. We’re excited. We’re ready to play.”
Jeter and Sheets are joined on the team by fellow seniors Amauriya Brown, Savannah Coker and Victoria Finley, and with those players leading the way, it has been a close-knit group this season.
“If we weren’t as close as we were, we definitely wouldn’t be playing like this,” Jeter said. “In past years, we weren’t as close. We haven’t been able to communicate on the court. Since we’re all close, it helps us.”
Sheets, who was a starter on that team in 2018 that won a state-playoff match, said “we’ve gotten really close. We’ve been bonding this week. I think that helped us communicate on the court, and just trust each other. Do your position, and play your part. I think we’ve been playing more as a team because of the bonding.”
For the seniors, their time as Troup volleyball players is going to soon come to a close, whether it’s on Saturday or soon after.
Some of the seniors were a part of the Troup volleyball family before they were even in high school.
Jeter and Sheets used to come to games when their older sisters were Troup volleyball players.
“I remember us being in elementary school shagging our sisters’ volleyballs playing varsity, and now we’re seniors,” Sheets said.
Jeter remembers those days as well, and now she’s about to wrap up her volleyball career at Troup.
“They always said you’ll get to your senior year so quick, and I thought it’ll take forever, and now it’s my senior year, my last year playing,” Jeter said.
That the seniors would even have a final season was uncertain during the summer as everyone was coming to grips with the Coronavirus pandemic.
While the preparation during the summer was a bit unusual because of the restrictions put in place, there was a season, and everything has gone smoothly for Troup.
“We said, if we get a season, we’re going to give it our all,” Sheets said. “It’s all or nothing.”
The task will be a difficult one on Saturday.
Columbus, the champion of Area 2-AAAA, is accustomed to making deep playoff runs, and it won the program’s third state championship in 2015.
Anna Andrews, Troup’s first-year head coach, compares it to 2018 when Troup beat a strong North Oconee team on the road in the first round of the playoffs.
Two of the seniors, Brown and Sheets, were a part of that team.
“Amauriya and Landen were with us when we played North Oconee two years ago, and they said if we can win that one, then we have a shot,” Andrews said. “I think that’s where we are. We’re trying to work through the nerves, because it is nerve-wracking, especially since none of our volleyball teams have made it past the sweet 16 before. If we do, we’ll make history.”
Troup has played a stout schedule this season, so the players will be ready for whatever they see against Columbus.
“It prepares us for that intensity that we’ll see Saturday,” Sheets said.
TROUP VS. COLUMBUS
WHAT: Second round of Class AAAA state volleyball playoffs
WHEN: Saturday, 11 a.m.
WHERE: Columbus High