This year was a lot of fun for Julie Rushing and the Chestatee volleyball team.
Off the court, Chestatee’s coach said her team got along and become a collective unit comprised of girls who were good friends. On the court, the Lady War Eagles put together the most successful season in school-history, finishing with a 22-12 record and advancing to the Elite 8 of the Class AAAA state playoffs.
“The girls I had were wonderful,” said Rushing, this year’s Area Volleyball Coach of the Year.
“They got along together off the court and it made on the court just a lot of fun. They were, honestly, just best friends. They did so much together off the court and outside of school that they really knew each other and how each other reacted.”
It was that bond the Lady War Eagles built outside of volleyball that helped them come together as a collective group on the court, especially in close, high-intensity matches.
“They knew they could push each other without offending somebody,” Rushing said. “Because they were just so close, anyway, that they could communicate so effectively.”
After finishing second in Area 8-AAAA behind Walnut Grove, Chestatee earned a home match in the first round of the state playoffs. Knowing it was a win-or-go home situation, the Lady War Eagles managed to earn the school’s first-ever playoff victory, dominating Jonesboro 3-1.
Rushing said prior to that match, her players were a little intimated, but quickly overcame it to make school history.
“I remember when (Jonesboro) came walking into the gym, a couple of my players got wide-eyed,” Rushing said.
“The girls were a little bit intimated, but then they thought back to a few matches in the year when they were also intimated and were successful.”
Chestatee continued its playoff run in the second round, beating South Effingham 3-1, before falling to Columbus High in the state quarterfinals.
And although her team came up short in its run toward a state championship, Rushing, who coached for three seasons at Chattahoochee and appeared in the state semifinals, knows the foundation has been laid for a successful program at Chestatee.
Next season she will return eight players from this year’s squad, and the expectations will be very high.
“Being able to see that success and feel that success, I think it will help the girls feel like they’re capable of it and actually give them the confidence to move forward,” Rushing said. “Even if they experience some type of setback, it will give them the confidence of, ‘Hey, we’ve done this before and we can do this again.’”
Looking back at the season, Rushing said it was her favorite team to coach because “it was so much fun.”
“I really think this has been my favorite year,” Rushing said. “I had some huge successes at Chattahoochee ... but I think this year would have to be No. 1. The girls just had so much fun.”
A graduate of North Hall, where she was a member of the first three varsity volleyball teams at the school, Rushing has seen volleyball in the area go from a new trend to a prominent sport, with club teams developing in the local communities.
With the sport growing, it’s something special to be a part of in Hall County, including at Chestatee High.
“It is so much fun,” Rushing said.
“My sister was part of the very first team at Johnson and that’s kind of how I got involved in it. I got to watch here and then I started playing as an eighth grader, and then watching all the schools in the county adding volleyball.
“It’s been really awesome watching it grow.”