For most of Taylor Svehla’s life, volleyball had been an escape, an outlet for her energies and frustrations from the rest of her life. It was like that at practice or in games, back in Nebraska, where she grew up, and at South Forsyth High School, where she helped take the War Eagles to the state quarterfinals or deeper three times and was thrice named the Forsyth County News’ Player of the Year.
But the summer before her senior year at South, Svehla was wondering if she could take much more. The burnout brought on by years of continuous competitive play had become so bad that she considered not even playing for the War Eagles that season. Svehla got through that last season, and then she quit her club team.
The sport that she had used to release stress had itself become another stressor on top of her demanding academic load, and Svehla was done.
“When it comes to the point of something you enjoyed so much just wasn't as much fun anymore, and it's not doing what it used to for you, and you're not enjoying it as much, then I don't think that you should continue to do that,” Svehla said.
Three years after leaving volleyball behind, Svehla is back on the court, having just finished a season where she helped a five-season-old Georgia College program to its first-ever NCAA playoff appearance. Svehla loves volleyball again, and she couldn’t have gotten to this point without leaving the sport behind for a bit.
“I don't know if I would have appreciated it as much if I hadn't gone through everything senior year,” Svehla said.
Georgia College head coach Gretchen Krumdieck had known about Svehla when she was at South, but Krumdieck figured that the Bobcats, who play in Division II in the Peach Belt Conference, wouldn’t be one of the schools in the running for Svehla.
“She was always looking at bigger schools,” Krumdieck said. “We kind of didn’t think that we would be a school on her radar, so we just kind of let that go for a little bit.”
Svehla didn’t totally step away from the sport, though. She started coaching younger athletes at A5, her former club team, and while doing that, she was reminded of how volleyball once made her feel.
“(I was) seeing their pure passion for the sport, not really having a lot of worries,” Svehla said. “And that kind of brought me back and made me realize that volleyball could be that for me again.”
Svehla had applied to a number of colleges, both in Georgia and back in Nebraska, after she left her club team, and Georgia College was one of those schools. It was February when she decided to start playing volleyball again, rejoining her club team and restarting her recruiting process.
She was “extremely nervous” about whether she could find a place to play so late in the recruiting process, but multiple offers came along, including ones from the Division I programs at Georgia State and Butler. At Georgia College, though, she found her ideal balance between her on-court and off-the-court life.
“I think the level I chose gives me the ability to focus on a lot of different aspects of my life while also playing at a really high level,” Svehla said.
One significant change for Svehla from high school competition has been the overall team success. South rose to the status of one of the best programs in the state during Svehla’s time there, but the Bobcats, which played their first season in 2013, were still working through growing pains when Svehla arrived. In 2015, her first season in Milledgeville, the team went 12-16.
“There was a lot of frustrating moments for her, I’m sure,” Krumdieck said.
The Bobcats have gotten better ever since, though. This season was a significant jump for the program, as Georgia College went 24-8, made the conference championship game and won their first NCAA playoff game, beating USC Aiken in the Southeast Regional.
Svehla has been one of the Bobcats’ top contributors through it all, earning a spot on the D2CCA All-Southeast Region second team and leading her squad in hitting percentage and solo blocks from the middle blocker position.
She’s optimistic that the Bobcats, who graduate just one senior from this year’s team, can be even better next year, and the feelings of burnout haven’t come back for Svehla. When she left volleyball, it was what Svehla had to do at the time, but that decision also served as proof of what the sport really means to her.
“When I wasn't playing, and I was just coaching and going to school my senior year, I feel like I was missing of a part of myself,” Svehla said. “And I knew that it was volleyball. That was the only thing that had changed.”