SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - Many counted out the Savannah State volleyball team after the tragic death of a teammate, a roster littered with injuries and an interim head coach. But they put their heads down and went to work, and willed their way into the conference tournament.
Savannah State’s interim head volleyball coach Roselidah Obunaga described the Tigers 2019 season so far as unexpected. Plagued by injures, it’s made the season difficult.
“Ending up cancelling one game against Middle Georgia, because three of the players were sick, so it was down to five," Obunaga said. "We couldn’t even make a team.”
They have only one sub, including their libero, meaning every game takes full effort from every player on the court.
“If you look back, there’s nobody on the bench who is going to come and help,” Obunaga added.
To add insult to injury the team has just one senior able to play.
“It was definitely the toughest mental season I’ve been through," said senior middle blocker Jamese Scott. "The amount of adversity that this team has faced is honestly the worst-case-scenario type of deal.”
There is one Savannah State Tiger no longer with the team physically, but she’s in their hearts every single set.
“Losing my friend gave me a different purpose to play. So, I’ll take that,” Scott explained.
Junior hitter Karissa Tatum died in a car accident on September 4 while evacuating Savannah for Hurricane Dorian.
The team plays with purpose to honor her.
“Not hearing her voice. Looking over to the sideline at my first game and she wasn’t there was definitely, definitely tough, but it also was a fire in my belly to keep going," said Scott, who was Tatum’s roommate last year.
“She wanted us to like, actually go to the tournament. She wanted to get a ring. Like, she was about everything that we’re accomplishing.”
They played their way to an 8-15 overall record, 6-10 in SIAC play. Good enough to qualify for the SIAC tournament.
Through it, they’ve learned more about themselves off the court than they believed possible.
"It may be hard, but it's nothing that you can't get through."
And the Tigers have a message to share.
“That we are not done yet. We are stronger and we are together and through all of this, I think it would just prove that we are together," Scott said. "We started this together and we will finish this together.”
The Tigers left for Rock Hill, S.C.,the site of the 2019 SIAC Volleyball Tournament, Sunday morning . They play Monday and by Wednesday, a conference champion will be crowned.