Dynastic success represents only the tip of the iceberg with the Peachtree Academy volleyball team. The relationships that were forged and the lessons that were learned on the road to four consecutive state championships have left an indelible mark on all involved.
by Chris Bridges
Sports dynasties often expand beyond the circle of athletics, which is why even casual fans know about the New England Patriots, the Los Angeles Lakers, the New York Yankees, the University of Alabama and even our Atlanta Braves.
Success for one season can be difficult enough to achieve, but to be at the top of a sport for an extended period of time demands attention. Such is the case for the powerhouse Peachtree Academy volleyball program. The Lady Panthers have won four consecutive state championships in the Georgia Association of Private and Parochial Schools—a notable accomplishment, not only for the volleyball program but for the small Newton County school that has a limited number of student-athletes from which to draw.
“Being a part of the team these past years has been such an honor and blessing,” senior Haley Hopkins said. “I have loved every minute of it. I thank God for giving me the love for this sport and for all the friendships and memories that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
Head coach Bobby Mitchell took a circuitous route to Peachtree Academy. He was looking for a place for his daughter to compete in the sport, and after initially trying to start a program somewhere else, he settled on Peachtree.
“My dad and his friends built a sand court on Jackson Lake back in 1988, and that’s when I was first introduced to the sport,” Mitchell said. “A few years later, I had the opportunity to see beach volleyball in the Olympics at Atlanta Beach. After that, I was hooked. I’ve been competing in doubles beach tournaments for 25 years now. I started coaching indoor volleyball 10 years ago when my daughter Brianna wanted to play. It was club volleyball at A5 South in McDonough. I never played or coached indoor before that. Since then, I have also coached for several other clubs and started my own beach and indoor program three years ago.”
“My advice is to never stop learning. We should all give back and teach, coach, mentor and volunteer. There is nothing more rewarding in this life than to help guide others.”Bobby Mitchell
Mitchell credits the high level of play Peachtree has exhibited during its run to several factors. Coaches, parents and players all bought into the program.
“We never stop learning,” he said. “A practice we ran five years ago is not even close to what we do today. I’ve had the opportunity to learn from some of the best coaches, psychologists and leaders in the country over the past five years. Our program is always evolving. We have a great culture, too. These kids know what it takes to be successful on the court and in life. They work super hard in the weight room, beach, gym and the classroom.”
All the pieces seemed to fit together naturally.
“This team is truly something special,” Hannah Leshok said. “God knew we needed each other. He just used volleyball to bring us to one another. We are truly a family. I believe that our closeness made winning so much easier, not just winning it for ourselves but for each other.”
With such a large group of seniors graduating, it will be a challenge for Peachtree to maintain its excellence moving forward.
“Honestly, we never talk about winning or state championships,” Mitchell said. “We only worry about what we can control: work ethic, sleep, mindset, health and nutrition. If we are doing all these things well, the results will take care of themselves.”
The Lady Panthers were forced to replace four key players ahead of their 2021–22 campaign but nevertheless managed to pull off their historic four-peat. The senior class also won a championship in middle school as eighth-graders.
“I don’t want to be cocky, but we really don’t know what losing is,” Maranda McCullough said. “The girls and Bobby made the last five years so fun, and I’ll remember this forever.”
Brianna Mitchell had the added perk of playing for her father.
“I don’t even know where to start,” she said. “To be a part of this program means more to me than I could put into words.”
While the championships were undeniably sweet for Mitchell and his players, the road to them was lined with invaluable life lessons.
“My advice is to never stop learning,” he said. “We should all give back and teach, coach, mentor and volunteer. There is nothing more rewarding in this life than to help guide others.”
Mitchell’s wisdom and influence resonate with his players.
“Being part of such an amazing team is something I will cherish forever,” Madeline Patil said. “I have lifelong friendships and a lifetime of funny memories and stories to tell and remember.”
Teammate Annie Gibson echoed those sentiments.
“This team had my back on and off the court, and I think that made our bond stronger when we played,” she said. “We come from a small school with about 50-something kids in the high school. Somehow, with the limited options our coach had, we grew as a team and worked our butts off to earn our wins.”
Marissa McCullough, another senior, summed up the experience in one word: family.
“Having the same girls with me and around me for every single win makes the [championship] we won for senior year 10 times more special,” she said. “It’s not going to be the same once we’ve left the school, but we’ve definitely left our mark on the program. Tears, bruises and laughs were all shared and compiled into a memory that will never be forgotten.”