Donoho has racked up Class 1A state titles in each of the past two seasons, with the help of middle hitter Corey Phillis and setter Rylee Segrest. As the two climbed the ladder from contributors in 2011 to being the team’s only two seniors this fall, they’ve also taken up the tradition of vocally expressing frustration between one another.
“They’re such close friends off the court, and they’re in very compatible positions as far as teamwork is concerned,” Donoho coach Janice Slay said. “I think it’s just a sisterhood kind of thing. I kind of like it because with younger players watching, initially it may kind of put them off, but the more they see it, they’ll realize it’s a sisterhood thing.”
The frustration never lasts long, however, as the two friends have no trouble concentrating on making life hard on the opponent when the time comes. The Falcons sit at 23-4 and enter Saturday’s Calhoun County volleyball tournament as the top seed. They won the one-day tournament last season.
“I guess people thought we were down,” Phillis said. “We’ve lost eight players over the last two years, but I guess it’s a guessing game. No one would have thought we’d be the No. 1 seed.”
A large part of Donoho’s success has been a new installment to the offense -- the slide.
With new personnel on the court this season after Donoho lost half its starting lineup, Segrest is the only setter on the team and Phillis is the Lady Falcons’ best option for kills.
With only one setter, Donoho has started playing in a 5-1 formation, which normally only has hitters on the front line. The formation allows Segrest to set across the court to an outside hitter or behind her to Phillis, who slides from the middle of the court to the outside. In the past, the Lady Falcons ran a 6-2 formation, which has two setters and three hitters.
“It’s been awesome,” Slay said. “It’s been tremendously effective, and the reason we can do that is because we’re running a 5-1, which we weren’t able to incorporate to a large degree in our offense because we were always running a 6-2.
“Corey is very accomplished at that particular skill, so we’ve been able to really use that and use it to a great effect to her and to our benefit.”
With the slide formation allowing Phillis the option of spiking the ball across the net or sending it down the line she had 298 kills this season. Segrest had compiled 602 assists.
“We’ve played together since we were in the seventh grade. We’re best friends and we play together so well. I’ve set to her, and she’s hit me for five years,” Segrest said. “It’s the chemistry we have that makes us work.”
The duo has thrived on the court, especially after putting in work with their club teams. Segrest, who is committed to Birmingham Southern, plays for the Atlanta Boom, and Phillis plays for Team Sting out of Birmingham.
Now with high school season back on, it’s been critical for the young team that the two seniors play well. Slay said the offense runs through Segrest, who has to set up plays. The coach added Phillis is a coach on the court, adding the middle hitter is a “go-to figure.”
“Fortunately for Corey and Rylee, they came up with a group of groups that were already accomplished, and I think being with them helped them develop their strong desire get better, too,” Slay said. “I think Corey came on the varsity team determined to be a player that is going to be reckoned with. She’s a very determined young woman in all focuses of her life.”
Before the Lady Falcons turn their focus toward the final few matches of the regular season and the Class 1A, Area 6 tournament Oct. 20, Donoho will look to defend its Calhoun County title. It has racked up win after win against county teams and only lost once to 4A Alexandria, a match Phillis missed.
“We’ve beaten everyone we’ll need to beat,” Segrest said. “We’re really hoping we can bring out those wins again.”
Brandon Miller covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575 or follow him on Twitter @bmiller_star