From the time they stepped on campus at Cherokee Bluff High, Sage Sutulovich and Brandyn Peterson have been expected to lead on the volleyball court.
As sophomores, they played pivotal roles in the Lady Bears making the Class 3A state quarterfinals in 2019.
Now seniors at the fourth-year school, Sutulovich, an outside hitter, and Peterson, who plays middle hitter, are gunning for another deep run in 2021.
This time around, however, a chance of winning it all in the playoffs is the ultimate motivation to come to practice every afternoon after a long day of school.
“These girls have had a taste of winning,” Cherokee Bluff coach Laura Delaperriere said. “Now I’m really ready to see what they can do.”
These two players anchor a Cherokee Bluff squad with five seniors, who play in a stacked Area 7-3A against North Hall, White County and Lumpkin County, among others.
If previous success taught these two fourth-year athletes anything, it’s that the sky is the limit on the court.
“This is a dynamic with our program that we’ve not had before,” said Peterson. “We’re focused on being selfless and not selfish. It’s like a sisterhood on the court.”
Cherokee Bluff opened the 2021 season with a tri-match split against Jackson County and East Jackson on Tuesday.
However, that doesn’t dampen the expectations from Delaperriere.
If anything, it made for a more spirited practice Wednesday for the Lady Bears and their perpetually-energetic coach.
Delaperriere has had talent in the volleyball program annually at Cherokee Bluff, but now they have the depth that comes with having the school’s first senior class that didn’t come in from another high school.
“These two girls are great leaders,” Delaperriere said. “When they walk on the floor, I have them to set the tone.”
Even with similar leadership capabilities, Sutulovich and Peterson have quite contrasting demeanors but work in perfect harmony on the floor together.
In fact, four years together has made them quite close as friends.
“Sage is the kind of girl who you want on your team, just a natural leader,” Delaperriere said. “Brandyn is a really calm leader.”
The real spark plug for the volleyball program is the coach who is constantly in motion and always dishing out her critiques of their performance, with whistle ready to blow when needed.
Delaperriere is small in stature but hard to match in terms on intensity in practice.
Every bit of energy the volleyball coach exudes is purposeful.
Delaperriere’s extraverted nature, players say, is what they need to maximize their full potential.
Even in the heat of battle.
“Coach ‘D’ makes practice so much fun,” Sutulovich said. “She’s very passionate and expects us to give 100 percent, too.”
These two seniors both said the defining moment for their program came in the second round of the playoffs two seasons ago.
Trailing 2-0 to Savannah Arts Academy, the Lady Bears went into recess to regroup.
Then, Cherokee Bluff’s coach threw her clipboard against the wall, which was an immediate wake-up call to her players.
Delaperriere insists that her action wasn’t planned.
It was just to light a spark with the match still up for grabs.
And showing energy was the right move as the Lady Bears went on to win the final three sets in the best-of-five match to advance to the Elite 8.
“That was definitely the best moment of my career,” Sutulovich said.
Now, no longer the new school in Hall County, Cherokee Bluff is ready to take the next step in its program.