By Walter Villa
Opponents may not know their names just yet, but their games have been making an impact.
There’s the quiet girl with the presidential first name and a thunderous shot. Then there’s the vocal leader and Chattahoochee (Johns Creek, Ga.) team captain who took 17 unofficial visits before settling on a college.
Meet Kennedy Bryan, a 6-foot-1 senior outside hitter who has committed to Virginia Tech. Presidential names run in her family -- she has a sister Reagan, 7, and a brother Jackson, 13. You can spot Kennedy by looking for the lucky white knee pads she’s worn for more than three years.
“I probably shouldn’t be wearing them,” she said. “They are so torn and tattered that they really don’t protect me, and I’ve got scars on my knees. (The pads) used to be white. Now they’re more of a gray.”
Now say hello to Emily Corrigan, a 5-11 senior outside hitter who can be spotted with her lucky black Infinity sneakers, the ones she borrowed from a club teammate and now refuses to give up. She committed – finally – to Appalachian State.
“I think I set the record for most unofficial visits,” Corrigan said with a laugh. “I wanted to go to a place where I can make an impact and feel welcomed, and Appalachian State had been chasing after me for a long time.”
Together, Bryan and Corrigan have begun to make a name for themselves and their school. Chattahoochee is 27-7 and ranked 18thin the POWERADE FAB 50.
The Cougars have never won a state title, but they are getting closer. In 2009, under first-year head coach Jennie Blevins, they made it to the state’s Final Four. Last year, they went one step further before losing in the final.
Now the Cougars – coming off a fourth-place finish this past weekend at the elite Berkeley Premier Tournament in Tampa, Fla. -- are determined to clutch the elusive trophy they crave. Blevins came up with the slogan “Focus, Fire and Fight,” which now adorns team T-shirts.
Bryan and Corrigan added their own motto - “History in the Making” – and the team wears those words on their warm-up jerseys before each match.
Some of the top teams in Kentucky may not have taken the mantra seriously at the beginning of the month, but they do now. The Cougars went 5-0 against the highly regarded Louisville-area teams, including wins over No. 5 Assumption and No. 34 Sacred Heart.
In fact, the Cougars are the only team to beat Assumption all season long.
“That was the best we’ve played all year,” Corrigan said. “But we didn’t’ play out of our minds. We can still play better.”
The win elicited praise from the vanquished power.
“They had these two outside hitters (Bryan and Corrigan), and we couldn’t stop them,” said Taylor Paulson, a 6-3 middle blocker for Assumption. “They were two awesome players, and they went right over our block. What are you supposed to do?”
Paulson is not the only player to know that helpless feeling. Bryan and Corrigan’s club team, A5 17-1, went to the Junior National Championships in Atlanta this past summer and impressed, finishing second to Austin Juniors.
Blevins is not surprised at all by the success attained by Bryan and Corrigan.
“Kennedy is a physical monster,” Blevins said. “When she walks in and starts hitting, you notice.
“Emily, she hits very hard, too. I have been coaching Emily for five years, since I was an assistant here. She is respectful and has passion for the game and her teammates. I don’t know what I would do without her.”
Blevins will have to figure that out next year, of course. But for now, she is trying to figure out how to beat No. 28 Pope (Marietta, Ga.), which has won the past two state titles in Class 4A, including the 2010 championship victory over the Cougars.
Pope has already beaten the Cougars twice this season, but Blevins is not concerned.
“I believe you learn more from losing than you do from winning,” Blevins said. “I hope to see Pope again in the playoffs.”
Bryan and Corrigan, who have a close friendship, would love nothing more than another shot at Pope, preferably for a state title. Their entire mission this season is to bring attention to Chattahoochee as a volleyball power.
“It’s great to know we are respected as players,” Corrigan said of the acclaim she and Bryan have received lately. “I’m glad to represent my school and to know that we are a threat on a national level.”
Added Bryan: “Before this year, Chattahoochee hadn’t been to any out-of-state tournaments. So it’s great now to get that respect. We want to put Chattahoochee on the map.”