By Rory Sharrock
The city of Savannah has established a reputable legacy for its historic landmarks, unique architectural designs and for being the first state capital of the colony of Georgia.
As a result of this rich tradition, Savannah is a tourist haven for many Georgians seeking to capture a glimpse of America's first planned city.
However, in addition to the frequent visitors that merge within the city limits, it's become a popular destination for former high school volleyball players from the Southern Crescent.
This season, six women from the community have extended the pipeline from Clayton and Henry County to this picturesque coastal city as members of the Savannah State University Lady Tigers volleyball squad.
Among this crop of athletes, who starred at their respective neighborhood high schools, includes three former Morrow Lady Mustangs - junior setter Shawannda McClain, freshman outside hitter Shatice White and freshman defensive specialist De'Ann Dukes.
Alongside the trio of Morrow graduates stands two ex-Mundy's Mill Lady Tigers - junior defensive specialist Danielle Richardson and freshman outside hitter Hollis Brow. Rounding out the list with ties to the Southern Crescent is freshman right side hitter Nabori Perez of Luella High School.
Playing college volleyball is a rigorous task that requires individuals to deal with long practice sessions and a demanding traveling schedule - all the while maintaining their academic standards.
These responsibilities can seem even harder being so far away from home, however, because of their similar backgrounds, these women have established a strong sisterhood that helps them deal with adversity on and off the court.
"It's easier to play with people you've played with before instead of coming into a whole new setting. It's easier because instead of making friends, you already have that chemistry on court, said White.
"We're playing together well with the people we know and also the people we just met. We just all came together as a team."
While White, Perez, Brown and Dukes hone their skills as freshmen, Richardson and McClain are juniors who provide seasoned veteran leadership as two of the oldest players on the roster. They often pass along sound advice to their younger teammates by teaching them how to stay above water in terms of balancing homework and social activities with competition.
"It's very different, but because I'm a junior, I've learned to adjust to the schedule," said McClain.
"In high school, the games have to start at a certain time and end at a certain time. In college, it's totally different. We have games on Saturdays, Sundays and tournaments. You have to learn to work around our schedule in order to fit things in the right way. You have to be good at time management and not procrastinate."
These intangibles are critical to the success of a program that features 10 freshman, four of which hail from the Southern Crescent.
However, first-year head coach Malik Jones is optimistic about the future and secure in the knowledge about the caliber of player from Clayton as well as Henry County.
"Shawannda McClain and Danielle Richardson had a lot to do with this," said Jones. "Coming from Texas and not being familiar with Georgia high schools, I really relied on them to see if they knew any girls from their high schools. Shatice (White) sent me a DVD and I noticed her talent and some of the players from the team. Hollis Brown came for a visit and sent me a DVD. I saw a lot of talent in her so I knew the Atlanta area, Mundy's Mill and Morrow High School had a lot of talented players. I'm looking there to do my recruiting for the season."
Currently, Savannah State is 8-16 with two games remaining on the schedule - at Georgia Southern on Oct. 28 and at Benedict College at Nov. 4.
The school's modest eight wins is the most they've tallied since moving up to Division I-AA in 2002.
During their last two outings, the Lady Tigers earned a split, falling 3-0 to Seattle University on Oct. 19 and then beating Morris College 3-0 on Oct. 20.
While their athletic feats are noteworthy, these six stars from the Southern Crescent are also shining brightly in the classroom.
Richardson is majoring in behavior analysis with hopes of working as adolescent psychologist.
McClain is studying accounting and plans to become a certified public account. Perez is also working on a degree in accounting.
Brown is a criminal justice major and wants to become a crime scene investigator. Dukes is currently majoring in business management. White is currently undeclared.