If I had to guess, I’d say Woodland-Henry’s volleyball team has no idea what it is walking into. No, the team probably knows how good Southeast Whitfield is. The Lady Raiders are ranked second in the Ga.PrepCoun-try.com Class 4A coaches poll, and have been for a while.
But the Southeast fans? When it comes to them, Woodland doesn’t have a clue.
There were two stories to be told after Southeast’s win Tuesday against Jonesboro in the second round of the Class 4A state playoffs. The first was about how important the victory was for the program. The other was about the Southeast crowd — specifically, the student section — providing one of the best home-court advantages I’ve seen at a high school sporting event. And if that same advantage is there at 5:30 p.m. Saturday when Southeast hosts Woodland in the quarterfinals, the result could be similar.
“I’ve never seen a student section like that at a volleyball game,” said Southeast coach Jake Dickey, who built up a sweat during the match that was still noticeable for the post-game interview, after the team’s practice on Thursday.
“The only thing I can think that even comes close to it is one of my first years I went to (watch) the state championship and it was Marist and Woodward. There were about a 100 Marist kids and 100 Woodward kids right next to one another. Aside from that, as far as one crowd for one team, I haven’t seen anything like that.”
There were the standing ovations after each momentum-shifting rally went the Lady Raiders’ way. Then there was each fun chant — even I, an unbiased onlooker, couldn’t help myself from tapping my foot to the always catchy “Y-E-L-L, Y-E-L-L everybody yell, ‘Go Raiders!” How about the student section shifting in unison — Dickey estimated at least 200 home supporters in crammed gymnasium bleachers that are less than 10 feet from the action — to the other side of the gymnasium for the final game just to be behind the Southeast bench?
“It was intense,” said Michael Izaguirre, a Southeast football player who was part of the student section Tuesday and plans to be again on Saturday. “Obviously we know all the girls on the team, so it means a lot to us. We’re used to seeing them win pretty handily. It didn’t feel like a normal volleyball game, though. It was intense.”
Give at least some credit to Raiders football coach Sean Gray for making it mandatory for his team to attend the match.
“We practiced Tuesday morning for about 45 minutes and then Tuesday evening for about an hour and a half, so we didn’t miss anything,” Gray said. “We’re just trying to build up community pride and school pride.”
After Jonesboro won the second game to tie the match at one game apiece and took a 10-3 lead in the third game, the crowd never let up.
Even when Jonesboro’s athleticism seemed to be too much, the students never shut up.
It had an effect on the home squad.
“It means a lot to us to have our fans there,” junior Serena Ramsey said after the game, “because it helped us keep our heads up.”
After Southeast rallied to grab a 2-1 lead in games won, the jubilation that was on the Jonesboro side was replaced with unforced errors and serves hitting the net. Meanwhile, Southeast made sure the crowd’s effort was part of a happy ending.
“The louder we got, the better (the team) played,” Izaguirre said.
Yes, the crowd had at least some hand in Tuesday’s win. And yes, fifth-ranked Woodland — the Area 3 champion — is probably walking into something it has not seen before.
“I talked to the Jonesboro coach and he said, ‘Man, if you have that crowd, then you’ll get in their head,’” Dickey said. “The Jonesboro girls I think were a little used to it because they had basketball players (who had played in the state semifinals before). He said the Woodland players probably won’t be as used to that.
“What’s neat is the kids at school, I hear them talking about it and their friends say, ‘Well, I’m going to come Saturday.’ It might multiply.”
There’s no reason it shouldn’t. Southeast has already had a good season, winning its second straight area title, and has a real shot at something special. This is now the farthest the program has gone in the state playoffs and playing in front of a vocal and influential home crowd does nothing but help the team’s chances.
“(Woodland) will probably come in thinking it will be pretty close and probably think they will win,” senior setter Hannah Graham said Thursday. “Once they get in here, our huge crowd will be here, and they will be like, ‘Whoa, I’ve never seen this before.’ ... It intimidates people. If we walked in somewhere with a big crowd, we’d say (the same).”
Time for your curtain call, Southeast.
Devin Golden is a sports writer for The Daily Citizen, and he feels fans and crowds are the reason sporting events are so fun to watch. Write to him at email@example.com.