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Record-setting Roys has raised the bar for Gainesville High volleyball program
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Savannah Roys, a senior on the Gainesville High School varsity volleyball team, poses for a portrait at Gainesville High School in Gainesville, on Oct. 10, 2017. - photo by David Barnes

In volleyball, the setter can often be referred to as the “quarterback” of the sport.

Ironically, a role that requires every bit of the precision and poise as football’s most celebrated position is often the least glorified in volleyball. But that doesn’t phase Gainesville High senior setter and team captain Savannah Roys.

In fact, standing out has never really been her thing.

Roys’ banner image — one among the starting six for the Lady Red Elephants — hangs on the walls of the Gainesville High gymnasium, and she will be on full display when the Lady Red Elephants (28-11) open this year’s state volleyball playoffs Thursday as a No. 1 seed at home. Gainesville will be one of 10 area teams beginning postseason tournament play either today or Thursday depending on classification. 

The poster child of the program relishes in being out of sight and out of mind. 

“I like just keeping to myself and I like being able to run the court,” Roys said.

That she does. Much like a signal-caller on the gridiron, Roys is seen under center before each point, dissecting the opposition’s hitting patterns and formations. She directs traffic with every subtle push of her fingertips on the ball — almost as if saying a prayer to the ceiling — and guides her attacking front toward the best possible strike zones on the other end of the net. 

“She’s definitely our quarterback,” Gainesville volleyball coach Randi Moore said. “(Savannah) can read the other team, she can pick up very quickly what the other team is about to do, even if the other team did something like they’re out of rotation. She picks it up even before the officials do. She pays attention, and she is very particular to detail.

“When she is setting, she sets the tone. And the girls feed off of her excitement and drive and her all-in-all excitement for playing.”

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Savannah Roys, a senior on the Gainesville High School varsity volleyball team, poses for a portrait at Gainesville High School in Gainesville, on Oct. 10, 2017. - photo by David Barnes

Gainesville’s four-year staple has exhibited the command and presence it takes to thrive at her position, and the results reflect that. To date, the three-time All-Area Player has buoyed the Red Elephants as a legitimate volleyball powerhouse with two Area titles, one Hall County Championship and two Sweet 16 appearances in the Class 6A playoffs.

As she has done many times before in her career, Roys helped lead the Lady Red Elephants to their second Area title in the last three seasons last Saturday in Winder. Roys earned Area MVP distinction after dialing in 25 kills with 17 service aces while dishing out 55 assists and 36 digs for the tournament. 

Teammates Kenley Jordan and Abby Alexander were also named to the All-Area 8-6A team as well.

And pending the Red Elephants’ status in the playoffs after this week, she will have more than 2,300 assists to go with 1,100 digs, 600 kills, 370 aces and 125 blocks for her career.

“She has taken that job and responsibility, and instead of taking it in a different direction she has taken it in a direction we needed in order to build this program into what it is today,” Moore said.

But ability alone can’t be the only trait that makes Roys such a consistent force. 

Roys, who originally played basketball, developed a passion for volleyball by her third and fourth-grade years at Jubilee Christian Academy, a private Christian school in Gainesville. It was there she discovered her true calling by playing with and against some of the more experienced players on the school’s volleyball team her father, Randy, coached. 

“I just wanted to be like them, and I just wanted to be a volleyball player. As I got older, volleyball really became my only focus. I just love it.”

At 13, she carried that passion along in junior varsity. She then set the bar even higher her freshman season by earning a spot as the starting setter for the varsity squad. And next fall, she will be taking her career to the collegiate ranks at the University of Montevallo.

“She had those leadership qualities about her, that she could carry those into her game and not let that affect her due to her age,” said Moore, who has coached Roys for the last five years.

It doesn’t stop on the court, either. On weekends, Roys, along with father Randy — the Red Elephants assistant coach — break down match film and look for other ways to refine her craft. Savannah credited much of her success to a good night’s rest, staying hydrated and most especially to a strong support system comprising her friends, family and coaches — including former player and coach April Carroll.

“She’s aggressive, she’s fierce ... and it’s something that she loves,” Moore said. “Volleyball is her passion, and you can see her passion every time she steps onto the court.”

Despite having only three seniors — Abigail Alexander, Ashley Filson and Roys — on a youthful Gainesville squad, Moore still sees young, raw talent that can bring an exciting brand of volleyball to this year’s Class 6A tournament. Their postseason journey begins against four-seed River Ridge High at 6 p.m. Thursday in Gainesville.

And it won’t get much easier from there, said Moore, as many second-round matches feature Final Four-caliber opponents. 

But morale is high in both Moore and Roys. The senior setter indicated Gainesville’s youthful energy, coupled with the improvement shown on the court throughout the season, will make and not break the team.

“You gotta find heart and dig deep, especially for state when you play best three-out-of-five (sets),” Moore said. “It’s all about who can finish first, with the least amount of errors.”