That is how the new Georgia Southern volleyball coaching staff described their first season in Statesboro. Their well documented journey under new Head Coach Chad Willis ended just over a month ago and the goal remains the same - have a winning season. It hasn’t been done for the GS volleyball program since 2013.
The team went 7-20 under the new regime and Willis has mixed emotions about it.
Willis, as he sat in his office surrounded by piles of recruiting papers and boards full of X’s and O’s, was eager to reflect on the good and bad from the season.
“I don’t think anybody in our locker room or within our program would agree that on paper, our overall conference record was an indicator of what type of team we were,” Willis said. “But, that is our reality right now.”
The team started off the season with intentions to change the program’s culture and the overall mindset the fanbase about volleyball.
They were successful in this aspect, as they built their Twitter following thanks to weekly interactive series’ on the players and a hardworking marketing team.
The team even got their own group of fans called the Hanner Hectics, similar to the Clement Crazies and Hanner Hooligan student sections for their baseball and basketball counterparts.This season saw a boost in attendance numbers and support from the other sports.
In the middle of the season, the team hit a bump and went on a seven conference game losing streak. Willis insists that the team maintained a positive attitude and did not allow themselves to give up, though the chances of making it to the conference tournament dwindled after every loss.
“I thought we did a really good job of really continuing to fight,” he said. “Like, putting ourselves back into the ring. We just didn’t get any knockouts, we didn’t get the results we wanted.”
Willis contributes a few of the team’s struggles simply to the youth of the team because they are just getting accustomed to the rigor of playing Division I volleyball. He explains that adjustment time is needed and they only regularly played up to three upperclassmen at a time.
These upperclassmen include seniors Carly Turner, Brooke Birch, Ryan Tuten and Kendall Adams. Dealing with a coaching staff overhaul is not an easy feat for your senior season as an athlete, but Willis says that these four were leaders on and off the court. They embraced the changes and wanted the best for the team, even when times were tough.
On the bus ride back to Statesboro from Atlanta after the last game against the Panthers, the coaching staff did not want the team to feel down on themselves about the season. They emphasized the importance of focusing on 2020 and getting healthy.
“We’re right back in the saddle come August,” he said. “The good thing is, we’ve got a good core group of returners who are motivated...driven...and dedicated to turning this thing around and finding ways to get a better result. They understand what it takes to win and have to battle every night.”
The team saw their highest high when they defeated Troy, 3-1, at home in front of a packed crowd at the beginning of October. The Trojans were 12-2 before coming into Hanner, compared to GS’ 5-8 record. In the game, sophomore middle hitter Baylor Bumford set a school record of 15 blocks and the Eagle defense held the visitors to just one set.
Troy would eventually go on to finish 22-9 on the season and to compete in the Sun Belt Conference semifinals.
“It just showed what our potential was as a team,” he said. “The thing we struggled with was consistency… We know we have the ability to play in some of those bigger matches against solid teams and come away with those type of results.”
With this season behind in the books, Willis has turned his attention to recruiting. The class of 2020 has yet to be announced, but he is also wrapping up the finalization of the 2021 class.
Amanda Arnold, The George-Anne Sports Editor, email@example.com