Heritage volleyball head man David Buddenbaum has coached Taylor Bailey and Mikayla Charles since the two were freshmen.
And though the talent was flowing through both players right from the start of their tenure at Heritage, Buddenbaum has seen them cultivate that raw talent and become two of the most knowledgeable volleyball players in the area. It started with the transition from their first season to their sophomore campaign.
"Freshman year, (Bailey and Charles were) very similar to a lot of players that we have that have a lot of athletic skill but (it) takes them time to get coordinated to volleyball skills," Buddenbaum said. "(They) had a lot of desire to get better, they had a lot of fun playing. They had some success and enjoyed it and got better and better. They improved from their freshman to their sophomore year. Both played varsity sophomore year, a lot of growing, learning how to play at a higher level."
Buddenbaum thinks the disappointing sophomore season - the Patriots lost to Habersham Central and Clarke Central in the area tournament and didn't qualify for the state tournament - helped shape the players Bailey and Charles are today.
"We didn't have a very successful sophomore year," he said. "(They were) successful during the regular season (but) didn't qualify for state. I think that motivated them a little bit."
Things changed after that. The Patriots, led by Bailey and Charles, returned to the Class AAAA sectionals last season, and this year's team looks to be the Conyers school's best shot at the final four since the 2005 team lost to eventual state champion Woodward Academy in the elite eight. Middle hitter Bailey and Charles, an outside hitter, have led the way, but for Buddenbaum, it's been a team effort.
"Taylor and Mikayla definitely stand out, there's no doubt about that," Buddenbaum said. "(But) they've all improved. As a whole, I think 9 of our 10 seniors played year round and they've played year round for four years. Their volleyball knowledge is really vast because of it. They enjoy playing, they enjoy learning, and have ... a great understanding of what volleyball is."
Standing in the Patriots way in today's second-round match is Lakeside-DeKalb and a familiar face for a lot of the Heritage players. Lakeside coach Stan VanSant has worked with and coached several Patriots, including Bailey and Charles, during club volleyball season, as well as lecturing and teaching at clinics. The familiarity is just one of the reasons Buddenbaum is expecting a great second-round match.
"He has coached a lot of them in club, he's trained a lot of them," Buddenbaum said of VanSant. "I think we're in for a battle. Lakeside is a very solid, well-coached team."