The senior leadership on the Columbus volleyball team may be best described as an assembly line.
There is a division of labor between the three girls--Chandler Barre, Mikayla Swinson and LeighEllen McCormick--who were freshmen when the Lady Blue Devils last made it to the state championship game in 2009.
They were runners-up that year, losing to Woodward Academy in the finals. But the hope is that the strong leadership and talent will be enough to come out on top when they face heavily-favored Sandy Creek in the Class AAAA final at 7 tonight at Marietta High.
There is Swinson, who is described by teammates and herself, as intense.
"I know, I'm the one who--I'm just intense," Swinson said. "Coach Fleming has to get me to calm down sometimes, because in the huddle, I can get really excited. And when I get really excited, I start talking really fast and loud. I'm in your face."
Then, there is Barre. Barre is an emotional leader, as well, but she takes a lighter approach, talking on an individual level.
"I like to work with each individual player and make sure everyone is doing okay," Barre said.
And, Barre added, McCormick is the support.
"I'm the one that's always saying, you know, 'Come on guys, it'll be okay,'" McCormick said with a laugh.
The result is a complete leadership team that can offer everything the team needs to succeed.
"It's definitely a system," Barre said. "Mikayla will yell at you--in a positive way; I'll talk with you about it; and LeighEllen will encourage you."
And, of course, they do all right for themselves in the game, as well. Barre leads the team in kills with 309, and has added 31 aces, 16 blocks and 97 digs. McCormick has the most service aces, 95, and has 268 digs. Swinson is the team-leader in digs with 453, and has 47 aces and 30 assists.
Columbus coach Donna Fleming has stressed on multiple occasions all season how vital the senior leadership has been to the team's success.
The team was talented from the first day of the season, but, as Fleming pointed out, the odds were long that it would be one of the final two teams playing in Class AAAA.
"I mean, just think about it," she said. "Think about how many teams there are, and to be one of the last two playing. The odds weren't in our favor, but here we are."
And it hasn't always been an easy road for the Lady Blue Devils. They play a difficult schedule to begin with, the goal of which is that they will be more prepared come playoff time. That goal has been achieved, but there were a lot of times during the season when it would have been easy to get discouraged.
The team finished the regular season just a single game over .500 at 26-25, and had losing streaks of three or more matches four times during the season.
"I think you do get discouraged sometimes, simply because you aren't winning," Fleming said. "But all it takes is one good match to show you that things are paying off."
And she credited her seniors for keeping things in perspective.
"We know that we play those hard matches to get ready for the playoffs," Barre said. "That's the preseason, and I do think we did a pretty good job of making sure everyone was reminded of that."
The team has faced very little adversity since its loss to Sandy Creek in the Area 3-AAAA championship game. In four playoff matches, it is yet to lose a single game, sweeping Locust Grove, Northwest Whitfield, Veterans and Marist.
It's likely, of course, that the Lady Patriots will bring that streak to a halt. A sweep against the state's top-ranked team, which has defeated Columbus in three matches this season, probably has longer odds than there were at making it to the championship.
But all three seniors said that they were prepared for the adversity should it come.
"It's just one (game)," Swinson said. "There are four more. That's the good thing: We don't have to sweep them to win."
McCormick said that the team needs to focus on its match, not how talented the opponent is.
"As long as we focus on what we're doing and playing our best, no matter who the opponent is, I think we should have a great chance," she said.
Barre noted that the team did win one game against Sandy Creek, 25-14, in the first match between the two teams this season.
"We beat them in that one game, and we really kind of ran away from them," she said. "We know it's possible."