NORTH FULTON, Ga. — The Georgia High School Association lays down strict rules for when teams can begin full practices and when they can hold their first contests. This limits practice time for those sports at the head of the academic year.
Volleyball and softball are given just three days of full practice, which began Aug. 1, before being allowed to schedule their first games on Aug. 4. That’s two-and-a-half weeks less practice time than allowed for baseball, and about a quarter of the average gap between first practice and first games for all of the GHSA’s team sports.
Though teams can hold workouts, open gyms and tryouts over the summer, they cannot have full practices until the official start date.
Robin Hines, executive director of the GHSA, said allowing volleyball and softball teams to begin games so early in the athletic year provides more play dates and greater flexibility in scheduling.
Anna McDaniel, head coach of defending Class AAAAAA softball state champions Cambridge, said the quick transition of beginning practices to beginning games forces her team to “hit the ground running.”
“You have no time to mess around,” she said. “It definitely adds pressure.”
Ernie Yarbrough, the GHSA’s coordinator for softball, said the limited practice time before the first games are a result of the short softball season. Schools must complete a 26-game schedule in 10 weeks before region tournaments begin.
“The coaches wanted to be able to start playing games as soon as possible,” he said in an email.
Though Cambridge has waited until Aug. 14 to schedule its first game, the short season has the Lady Bears opening the season in region play against Alpharetta.
Alpharetta begins its season a week after the allowable first practice date, but will play a scrimmage match against Blessed Trinity Aug. 3.
Volleyball has the same scheduling restrictions.
Blessed Trinity volleyball head coach Paul Stevens will lead a defending state champion into the season with little time to prepare.
“It’s a little crazy if you ask me,” he said. Blessed Trinity has its first match 10 days after his team is permitted to hold full practices.
The start dates present a challenge, but Stevens said the development of the sport in Georgia has helped alleviate issues of playing matches so quickly into the season.
His team, which has won three straight state championships, does not practice over the summer unlike many schools. Stevens said this is to allow players to develop on their own and to allow them a break.
“I don’t think it’s that much of a disadvantage,” he said. “It’s baptism by fire.”