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Rockdale’s McKenzie Gray celebrates after defeating Southwest Dekalb earlier this week.

CONYERS — When Felicia Colquitt was hired to take over the Rockdale County volleyball program, she didn’t fully know what to expect.

After inheriting a Bulldogs’ team fresh off of a disappointing 2018 campaign in which they missed the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade, Colquitt’s newly formed roster took some time to adjust to her vision.

Colquitt got away from individual skill challenges involved with the game of volleyball and instead turned to the girls having fun and enjoying playing the game without worry.

So far, Colquitt’s vision has begun to see positive results.

Earlier this week, the Bulldogs defeated Southwest Dekalb in straight sets, 25-24, 27-25, match that received standout play from Briana Tyson, India Williams and others.

While the overall wins have been hard to come by for the Bulldogs in 2019, such as their loss to Eagle’s Landing in the match that followed their victory earlier this week, Colquitt likes the direction the team is headed in.

“A lot of it is really changing the game of volleyball,” Colquitt said. “I am changing the culture by showing these girls that we are not going to focused more so on responsibilities of that position. I want them to just play because that takes a lot of stress off them. I really want them to focus on just playing, relaxing and that’s what we’re doing now. They’re doing a wonderful job, but it’s just all about that heart.”

After watching the Bulldogs lose in their first match of the season, Colquitt called her current team much-improved from top to bottom.

“From Game 1, I was very confused at first,” Colquitt said. “I knew we had a lot of work to do. I took a lot of notes and started strategizing. If we were a one on a scale of 1-10, I’m looking at us now making an improvement to about a seven. We have come very far.”

A big reason for the Bulldogs’ turnaround has been the evolution of Tyson and Williams. Williams, the tallest player on the roster, has improved the most from the start of the season in the eyes of Colquitt.

“She has really stepped up her game and we have seen so much improvement in her,” Colquitt said. “We know that we’re going to see even more, too. I’ve done a lot of changing things up. Having girls that weren’t good setters now setting the ball. Girls that weren’t good passers now passing the ball. India is one that has learned about placing and she never understood the value before. She is doing much better from that first game that we had.”

As for Tyson, who played junior varsity volleyball last season, has separated herself as one of, if not the best digger on the Bulldogs’ roster.

“The girls have a lot of confidence,” Colquitt said. “Sometimes, it just takes that heart to kind of push them forward. I think when they kind of get down, we couldn’t really adjust. I think that’s just one thing that we have to continue to work on in practice.”

The Bulldogs are still more than two weeks away from the start of Region 8-AAAAAAA play where they will look to make it back into the playoffs for the first time since 2017.

“I think we’re going to be ready,” Colquitt said. “I’m very excited. I enjoy watching them play. Starting on Day 1, I told them that I’m always proud of them. From practice to competition, it’s just amazing how much they’ve done. They really work hard and they listen well.”

In order to take that next step as a team, Colquitt has pointed to trying to find the best possible combination of players on the court.

“That next step is probably going to be just keeping that confidence and keeping that momentum going,” Colquitt said. “A lot of it with subbing comes trying to find that powerful six. As coaches, we’re still working on trying to find that six that syncs. When we can get that right six out there, I think that’s really going to be the powerhouse for the rest of the season.”

The Bulldogs will open region play at home against both Shiloh and South Gwinnett on Sept. 17.

Sports Editor

A 2017 graduate of the University of North Georgia, Colin joined the Rockdale/Newton Citizen in March of 2018 as the papers' full-time sports editor. A 2013 graduate of Jackson County High School, Colin received a golf scholarship to Andrew College.