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University of Georgia’s Rachel Ritchie (7) serves the ball during a volleyball match against South Carolina in Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Georgia on Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018. (Photo/Caitlin Jett)

Georgia volleyball’s cross-country trip to face UCLA, Long Beach State and Texas State from Sept. 5-7 in Long Beach, California, will represent much more than just another run-of-the-mill tournament on the road. For some of this team’s key figures, this will be a long-awaited homecoming.

The state of California, renowned for its elite volleyball talent, is home to four players on Georgia’s roster, tied with the state of Georgia itself for the team lead and more than any other state.

Moreover, head coach Tom Black has a volleyball network in the region, as the UC San Diego graduate coached his alma mater before taking over at Loyola-Marymount in Los Angeles and leading the program to new heights. Assistant coach Felicia Turner worked with Black at Loyola-Marymount and is also a graduate of the school. These connections have helped Georgia effectively recruit one of the most talent-rich states in the nation and put the Bulldogs on the national volleyball map.

“I’ve got extensive ties in that region,” Black said. “That was one of the things that excited me about this job, I knew the pull Georgia had in the Southeast and Midwest regions, but I could take my connections and spread our recruiting network nationally.”

The evidence of Black’s impact on recruiting comes in the form of the Southern California natives on his team, for which the trip to the West Coast will represent a truly special mark on the 2019 schedule.

“A lot of our family members don’t really get to see us compete that often,” junior San Clemente native Rachel Ritchie said. “I think it gives us that extra drive and passion, the extra edge to help us compete that much harder.”

How did Georgia manage to recruit players like Ritchie to move across the country? Ritchie emphasized coach Black's commitment to taking the program to the next level.

“I knew the second I talked to coach Black and I came out to visit that this was a special program and a special place,” Ritchie said. “You can feel the second you step out onto the court there’s so many Bulldog fans out there, there are fans at the airport, even fans in California, I was coming out there just wearing the shirt and people were yelling the cheer.”

The unique opportunity to travel back west will present the Bulldogs with some unfamiliar opponents. Georgia will open the Long Beach Tournament on Sept. 5 at 9 p.m. against UCLA before playing Long Beach State on Friday at 10 and wrapping up the action against Texas State Saturday night.

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