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High school volleyball: Hall County champs taking up raising funds for breast cancer research with 'Pink Out'
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Cherokee Bluff faces Chestatee in the finals of the Hall County championship on Aug. 27, 2022 in Gainesville. - photo by Bill Murphy

An already emotional week for Cherokee Bluff’s volleyball team figures to get even more so when it returns home for a non-region home tri-match with Lumpkin County and King’s Ridge Christian on Thursday.

However, fresh off the excitement of their first Hall County championship in their history, the Bears will face a little different emotion for that tri-match, which is being promoted as a ‘Pink Out’ to coordinate with a campaign the team is undertaking to raise money for breast cancer research.

The timing is coincidental with the county title, and is different from when it would normally occur during the season.

But as Cherokee Bluff coach Tiann Myer points out, it is merely a function of the team’s schedule.

“Usually, it’s a little closer to October simply because that is Breast Cancer Awareness Month,” Myer said. But … we don’t have hardly any home games (left), and truly this is our last one other than Senior and that’s on (September) 15, and we’d already had that set. So, this was the really the only time we could get it in. Our last regular season game is Oct. 4, so we just didn’t get much of an opportunity to have one, so this is when we made it work.”

The event and tri-match also come just as the Bears (16-9) are playing some of their best volleyball of the season, with last Saturday’s wins over Lakeview Academy, Flowery Branch, West Hall, Gainesville and Chestatee not only securing the program’s first county title, but also running the team’s current winning streak to eight straight matches.

Paced by the play of senior All-Tournament selections Grace Blythe Cornett (36 kills, eight service aces, 25 assists in the tournament), Emma Staples (31 kills, 16 aces) and Maddie Levine (11 aces) and a few strategic lineup adjustments, Myer is confident that the Bears are hitting their stride.

“It really is (big),” Myer said of the county title. “Being new (to the program) this year, for me it was a great feeling. The girls were extremely excited coming off a real successful season last year.

“We moved Olivia Owens over to middle (hitter). She had been outside. To be honest, I’d put her at right side, and then we had the injury. So now she’s playing middle. … (Moving Cornett to outside hitter) was another big move we made. She’s been a 6-(foot-)2 setter the last couple of years for the program. I moved her to outside (hitter) this past week, and we’re still running a 6-2 (alignment). We’re kind of fixing up some things.”

She is also confident that her team will be able to avoid a hangover from the title or a distraction from the emotions surrounding the cause that the Pink Out is supporting in Thursday’s tri-match.

“No, I think it’s such a great foundation to be making awareness (of breast cancer),” Myer said. I’m from Ohio, and it’s such a big event up there. I’d love to bring more awareness down here. … We made it a very big deal. So I would love to put more into it.

“I’m not real worried because I think this is a successful type of thing, and that’s how we’re going to present it.”

The Pink Out is something the entire team is enthusiastic about participating in, though it is something that Staples has a particular emotional interest in.

Breast cancer has impacted the senior outside hitter’s family initially through one of her male relatives, even though the disease is far more prevalent in women.

“When I was probably elementary school, my grandfather got diagnosed with breast cancer,” Staples recalled. “My mom and all her sisters had to get tested for the BRCA gene to see if they had it, and the three of them did. So my mom had to get a double mastectomy, and I think two of my aunts had to, also. That’s probably going to affect me and my sisters. I’m going to (get tested) when I’m 18.”

Given the history with breast cancer in her family, Staples has been motivated to get involved in breast cancer awareness in general, including the Pink Out.

She is spearheading the effort to raise at least $4,000 from the event with the sale of Pink Out T-shirts and other donations through the SideOut Foundation.

“So far, all we’ve done is the Pink Out,” Staples said. “We’ve made T-shirts and stuff.  My dad is (in) a fantasy football league. It costs about $200, and whoever wins is going to donate their winnings. So far that’s given us about $1,200 right now. If we don’t reach (the goal) by (the end of the fall), we’re probably going to do more stuff like a bake sale.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, Staples’ efforts have reached 93 percent of its goal, and she has been very appreciative of the help she’s received from her teammates, coaches and the Cherokee Bluff community.

“Everyone on the team has been really helpful, doing everything they can to help me out. They’ve been great. They’ve all been reaching out to their family and friends. They’ve all bought T-shirts. I think everyone on my team has, and I’m pretty sure all the coaches have. So, everyone’s been super supportive.”


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