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PREP VOLLEYBALL: Senior Lady Panthers gear up for state title run
7 Seniors
Left to right - back row Hannah Leshok (manager), Madeline Patil, Bri Mitchell, Jack Twardos (manager) Left to right - Front row Maranda McCullough, Haley Hopkins, Annie Gibson, Marissa McCullough - photo by Phillip B. Hubbard

COVINGTON, Ga. – Success in the postseason is nothing new for the Peachtree Academy Lady Panthers. As a matter of fact, the seven seniors on this year’s squad have won a state championship each of the last four years.

This year, the Lady Panthers want more.

 Marissa and Maranda McCullough, Briana Mitchell, Haley Hopkins, Madeline Patil, Annie Gibson and Hannah Leshock begin their quest of capturing a fifth straight championship on Thursday, Oct. 7. Peachtree Academy hosts the 2021 Region Volleyball Tournament.

 Capturing this year’s championship will make it a clean, four-year sweep during their high school career.

 As a result, head coach Bobby Mitchell highlighted how these seven individuals have helped establish a foundation of success for the Lady Panther program.

 "We have a culture,” Mitchell said. “And they’ve bought in year after year committing themselves to this sport. There’s really no secret except hard work.”  

 Each senior has made huge contributions to creating this culture, too.  

 Marissa McCullough is this year’s starting setter for the Lady Panthers. Coach Mitchell has noticed the effort and competiveness Marissa McCullough brings no matter the setting.

 “With Marissa there is no difference between practice and a state championship match,” Coach Mitchell said. “She gives 100% effort all the time.”

 Marissa’s sister, Maranda McCullough, is the team’s go-to server in 2021. She leads Peachtree Academy in aces and also contributes as a passer and defender.

 Coach Mitchell labeled Maranda McCullough as a “quiet killer on the court.”

 “She never has much to say,” Coach Mitchell said. “She just lets her game do all the talking.”

 Leading the Lady Panthers in blocks is Patil. She’s the tallest player on the team towering at 5’8”.

 Patil also brings a lot of energy to the court, according to Coach Mitchell.

 “The kid is so positive,” Coach Mitchell said. “I love her energy and the way she supports her team on and off the court.”

 The most decorated player for Peachtree Academy is Briana Mitchell.

 She’s earned honors such as All-State, All-Region, Tournament MVP and Team MVP. But that isn’t what separates her from the rest.

 “She is a coach on the floor, always motivating her teammates and making amazing plays,” Coach Mitchell said.

 Be that as it may, there’s only one player who coach Mitchell labeled as a “natural.” That is Hopkins.

 According to her head coach, Hopkins, standing at 5’2”, is the best all-around player he’s ever coached.

 “She is one in a million when it comes to her talent,” Coach Mitchell said. “She can play and excel at every position.”

 Even though all of these seniors have helped improve the volleyball program and achieve so much, there’s been one player who has provided the spark.

 At 5’1”, Gibson is small and explosive. She seems to be the best attacker for the Lady Panthers. Though Gibson was sidelined with a ruptured ACL during this year’s regular season, her impact has not been overlooked.

 “Look up dynamite in the dictionary and you will see a picture of Annie,” Coach Mitchell said. “ She is definitely going to be our secret weapon.”

 Now, there’s been one senior who has dedicated just as much time to the team’s success as the previous seniors mentioned. However, her contributions aren’t recorded with official stats on the court.

 Leshock is the team’s manager who has been just as committed to the program’s success as the other six seniors. She’s encouraged, coached and helped propel the Lady Panthers the past few years.

 Coach Mitchell has realized the significance of Leshock’s impact on the program. 

 “The kid is going to be the most amazing volleyball coach one day,” Coach Mitchell said. “She soaks up all my knowledge like a sponge. She is a natural leader on the sideline and just an awesome human.”

 As impressive as the state championship streak is, past years’ results have no bearing on what happens this postseason.

 Peachtree Academy is aware of that.

Starting Thursday, these seven seniors set their sights on the region tournament.  

 As the No. 1 seed, Peachtree Academy will face off against the fourth seed Killian Hill. After that, it’ll face the winner between No. 2 Westminster and No. 3 Lanier Christian Academy.