The Grind is presented by Scott's Auto Center.
Toward the end of South Forsyth volleyball practice Monday, each challenger lined up willing to take on Lady War Eagles head coach Kelly Wren in a theatrical demonstration of skill and fortitude. Wren stood at a net, a South player stood not 10 feet away and Wren wailed hits at the players’ feet with all her might. One after the other they stepped forward to dig as many as possible – Amanda Nugent, Savian Jordan, etc., etc. – but they were simply opening for the main act.
When junior libero Erin Yeatman stepped in for her turn, South players moved in closer. Wren smiled. Yeatman squatted into her stance. Best to end practice with a show.
Yeatman commands the attention as, according to Wren, “one of the best liberos in the state.” Since joining varsity as a sophomore last season, Yeatman has already reached 1,000 digs in her high school career. She had 627 digs this season entering Tuesday’s tri-match against Chattahoochee and Lambert, which ended before press time, and is the clear defensive leader for a South team that entered those matches 26-5 and ranked third in Class AAAAAA by MaxPreps.com.
But twice, Yeatman considered quitting volleyball.
The first was a matter of logistics. Yeatman was swathed in sports growing up. She played basketball, soccer, volleyball and swam. Eventually, she stuck with basketball and volleyball, but in the seventh grade she knew doing both was impractical.
Family helped with her decision. Yeatman’s sister, Kelli, was South’s libero from 2010-12, and in the throes of her decision-making process there was one particular match, a close, intense game, that gripped Erin.
“I just remember falling in love with it,” Yeatman said.
The second was an existential matter. Yeatman had gone through her first varsity season with South, helping the Lady War Eagles reach the Class AAAAAA state quarterfinals, but another club season with the A5 Volleyball Club waited. She knew the slog ahead: tryouts and preseason camps before a brief holiday break, then six months of practices 2 to 3 times a week with tournaments every weekend.
Yeatman was tired. The night before tryouts she wondered, was this worth it? Even when she made the team she thought, I don’t know if I want to walk in this room and be on this team.
In those moments, Yeatman said, she leans in to her teammates for support.
“It’s the encouragement from them,” she said, “the bond we have.”
So Yeatman decided to give it one more year.
“Now, there’s not a doubt in my mind,” she said.
In many ways, there is no time to doubt, for Yeatman’s volleyball schedule is relentless. South’s team workouts start in July and the three-month high school season follows. At the conclusion of the Lady War Eagles’ season, Yeatman gets only a brief respite before club tryouts begin. The club season begins in earnest in January and goes through June. Oh, and from May to August she also balances a competitive beach volleyball schedule with practice once a week and tournaments on the weekends.
All the while, Yeatman goes to Volley Performance at the Southern Volleyball Center on Sundays for elite, invite-only practice sessions where the best players in the metro area come for three hours of drills and scrimmages.
“It’s very valuable,” Yeatman said.
Indeed, it’s turned Yeatman into a critical component for South. Many of South’s practice drills revolve around Yeatman’s involvement, none more compelling than the one the Lady War Eagles ended with at Monday’s practice.
With each of Yeatman’s digs against Wren, her teammates exhorted her, filling the bustling South gym with quick staccatos of praise so as not miss what she might do next.
“I think we have a lot of talent,” Yeatman said. “It hasn’t quite come together yet. We’re still getting there. I think we’ll be ready by the time playoffs come, and I think we’re going to kill it.”