High School Sports

Thomas Heyward volleyball team in search of a banner this weekend

Thomas Heyward Academy volleyball player Madison Cooler is photographed at practice on Wednesday. The Rebels finished the regular season 24-0 and start the SCISAA state playoffs on Friday as the favorite to win the Class 2-A state championship.
Thomas Heyward Academy volleyball player Madison Cooler is photographed at practice on Wednesday. The Rebels finished the regular season 24-0 and start the SCISAA state playoffs on Friday as the favorite to win the Class 2-A state championship. jkarr@islandpacket.com

Ringing one end of the Thomas Heyward Academy gym in Ridgeland are the banners that represent every Rebels state championship or runner-up team.

And then there are bigger banners for each sport that include region championship years, as well.

Baseball, boys and girls basketball, football, golf, softball. Even cheerleading and strength and conditioning.

On this October Wednesday in Ridgeland, one sport remains conspicuously absent from this wall.

"We don't have one. The only accolade we have to our name is we won region two years ago," Thomas Heyward Academy head volleyball coach Leanne Eddy said, forgetting about this year's region crown. "I thought we were going to get a banner for that, but we didn't. We're hoping to put one up."

For a program that dates back to 2000, this is the Rebels' best shot, yet, at a banner.

Thomas Heyward Academy (24-0) will open play in the SCISAA Class 2-A state tournament at 11 a.m. Friday in Spartanburg after completing a perfect regular season.

The perfect regular season came as a result of a perfect storm of a roster.

Madison Cooler, a junior outside hitter who helped take Savannah Christian to a GHSA state title game last season, transferred in and joined a strong core of returning players -- senior captain Victoria Quick, junior Haylee Wade, senior Elizabeth Bunton and junior Jamie Davis.

The result has been the Rebels' best season ever.

"This team isn't as skilled as some other teams I've been on," Cooler said. "But these girls don't give up for anything. We can be down six, seven or more points, and these girls are right there fighting back. They don't give up. ...

"I couldn't have asked for anything better. These girls aren't as highly skilled as some, but I wouldn't have wanted to play on any other team this year."

Eddy acknowledges the addition of Cooler was big for the Rebels but is quick to point out she didn't do it alone.

"Jamie Davis is huge, she's my setter, she's an athlete, she's the quarterback of this team," Eddy said. "If someone isn't hitting well, she lays off of them. ... If the score is tight, she knows to feed Madison. If Madison gets an error or two, Davis knows what to do with the ball. A lot of people will target her. She's my only setter."

The serving consistency of Quick and Bunton is a key for the Rebels, as well. Eddy said both are consistent, serving in the mid-90-percent range and keeping pressure on the opponents.

"We really work on our serving, because we know when we serve well, we're really set up and we get a lot of free balls that we put away," Eddy said. "When we get a free ball, we put it away."

Davis credits much of the Rebels' success to the relationships the girls have with their teammates.

"We're all close, a lot closer then the teams I've been on before," Davis said. I have a long relationship with Haylee Wade and I've known Sissy (Victoria Quick) a long time. I think that has helped build our confidence up."

Eddy calls the team an "upbeat bunch of girls" and said the team's attitude hasn't changed much throughout the perfect season. If she has one wish, it's likely that there were more of them.

Like most small schools, Thomas Heyward has struggled to find players. Eddy has just nine players on the roster, making practice difficult on most days. When Ivy Bryan missed six weeks during the season with mono, it got tougher.

Eddy often recruits her 26-year-old daughter, Kristen, and former Rebel Laice Lane, also 26, to participate in practices. She moved two girls up from JV this week, as well.

With the Rebels' success this season, Eddy is hopeful more girls may become interested.

"We try to get the younger ones involved," Eddy said. "There's always that interest there, but as they get older, and they are girls, there's always cheerleading. ... They're always interested until they are old enough to cheer.

"This weekend at football, they had a cheer clinic and they had 60 girls out there. My minicamp had 20."

Winning a state championship could go a long way toward changing those numbers. To do that, the Rebels will have to navigate what Eddy admits is a tough bracket.

"If we play like we played Wednesday night (against Hilton Head Christian), we should march through the bracket," Eddy said. "It's like Derek Jeter said, people may have more talent than you, but there's no excuse for them to outwork you."

That would mean a likely matchup with Spartanburg Christian Academy in Tuesday's championship, where the Warriors would have a decided home-court advantage. That doesn't faze the Rebels.

"I expect us to win. I expect us to win a state championship Tuesday," Cooler said. "We talk and communicate and serve well, and when we do all of that, we're a great team. We've done that so far this season, and I expect to do it again this weekend."

If they do, it's safe to assume they'll get that banner.

SCISAA Volleyball State Tournament

Friday at Upward Star Center, Spartanburg

2-A

Thomas Heyward Academy vs. Carolina Academy, 11:30 a.m.

Hilton Head Christian vs. Florence Christian, 11:30 a.m.

Complete brackets: bit.ly/1jWYzAo

1-A

Beaufort Academy vs. Cathedral Academy, 10 a.m.

Complete brackets: bit.ly/1McBN4v

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