If Richmond Hill High School senior volleyball players Sarah Goolsby and Nikki Shields have their way, the Lady Wildcats will make plenty of noise this fall
"We want to go out with a bang," Shields said.
"We want to go out with a big bang," Goolsby added.
That might mean a bit of déjà vu for the two Lady Wildcats, who are among a handful of players who have been with the program since its inception in 2009.
That year, Richmond Hill went 16-10 and finished first in Region 3-AAA with a sparkling 9-1 mark to earn a first-round berth in the state playoffs.
And though they were bounced out in the first round by Flowery Branch in three sets, the Lady Wildcats had set the bar high in their debut season.
Then came the sophomore slump.
After moving up to Class AAAA, Richmond Hill found the competition a little tougher in 2010 and finished with respectable region record of 8-3 but an overall mark of 15-25 - in part because coach Ashleigh Davis-Lee scheduled a number of tournaments against tougher competition. What's more, the Lady Wildcats couldn't escape the Region 2-AAAA tournament and make it back to the state tournament.
"The competition was a lot tougher from where we were the first year," Davis-Lee said. "But it was a good change. We needed a higher level of competition ... we look for that to make us better."
This year, Davis-Lee expects her team to return to the state playoffs.
"I have high expectations for the group I have returning this year," she said. "It's looking like it's going to shape up to be a very good year for us."
That's partly due to experience.
For one thing, four starters return: Goolsby, the team's setter, and outsider hitter Shields, senior outside hitter Breanna Cota and junior middle hitter Kayla Taylor. Experienced juniors Kristen Hardee and Kaitlyn Tyalor also are back, while seniors Lisa Barnes, Darre Auna Lyde and Ale Shortridge help provide varsity depth.
For another, the Lady Wildcats also are excited about a pair of sophomore transfers, weakside/outside hitter Chandler Holmes and middle hitter Sarah Strazza. Both have experience at other programs.
"They fit in volleyball-wise, they fit in socially, it just works," Shields said. "They're going to be a big part of our team."
What's more, the Lady Wildcats seem to be genuinely having fun. They worked together in the offseason - playing in summer leagues and practicing when allowed - and have developed a chemistry that makes each player capable of being a leader on the floor.
"We like to have fun, but we know when to it's time to be serious," Goolsby said.
Davis-Lee, who has coached the Lady Wildcats since 2009, said her 2011 team's strengths include court awareness and communication What's more, the Lady Wildcats are working on developing an ever-more aggressive style of play.
"Our main focus is speeding up the offense," she said. "Our aggression has definitely increased. We want control over the ball. We are looking for the immediate kill off the first serve every time."
In addition to regular season non-region contests against the likes of Calvary Day, Savannah Christian, Savannah Arts and Windsor Forest, the Lady Wildcats will run into some tough opposition again in Region 2A-AAAA.
Glynn Academy went 33-14 last season and is perennially a state-playoff caliber program while Brunswick, Liberty County and Ware County also are expected to be improved.
Greenbrier (24-16 in 2010) is the top program in 2B-AAAA and could be a matchup for the Lady Wildcats in the region tournament.
That will take place again in South Effingham in October. Success there will land the Lady Wildcats back in the state playoffs for the second time in three years. That's where Goolsby and Shields expect to be.
"We know it's not going to be easy and it's going to take lots of practice," Shields said. "But we're getting there."
What's more, Goolsby said the Lady Wildcats hope to have some company along the way as the newest sport at RHHS still looks to find a following.
"We would really enjoy it if people came out and supported us," she said. "We know we're really low on the totem pole since we just started as a program, but if you come out, we will surprise you."
The Lady Wildcats open the season at home at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 18 against Calvary and Effingham County High School.
Aug. 18 - vs. Calvary, ECHS
Aug. 20 at Camden County Fall Play Day
Aug. 23 vs. Savannah Arts, Groves, Windsor Forest, Bradwell
Aug. 30 vs. Hilton Head, Savannah Christian at Savannah Christian
Sept. 1 at Jenkins
Sept. 6 at Brunswick
Sept. 8 vs. Toombs County, Effingham County at Toombs County
Sept. 9-10 at Glynn Academy Volleyball at the Beach
Sept. 13 vs. Glynn, Liberty County, Dig Pink Night
Sept. 15 vs. Windsor Forest, Bradwell Institute at BI
Sept. 20 at vs. Ware County, Brunswick, Glynn Academy at Glynn Academy
Sept. 22 vs. Calvary, South Effingham at Calvary
Sept. 27 vs. Ware County, Liberty County at Liberty County
Oct. 4 vs. Statesboro, TBA, Senior Night
Oct. 7-8 at Region 2-AAAA tournament