By Seth Ellerbee – email@example.com
Fourteen teams will make the journey from their respective courts to Marietta High School (Class AAAAAAA-AAAA) and Holy Innocents’ (Class AAA-A) to stake claim to seven state titles on Saturday. The field represents 36 past champions, six defending champions and five programs seeking first-ever titles — Etowah, Alpharetta, Pace Academy, Coosa and Mount Paran Christian.
The train keeps rolling
In the state’s highest classification, the Walton Lady Raiders will be on the hunt for their 12th state title since 1998, their third title in a row and seventh of the last eight. Walton is one of the best teams in the country and is ranked second in the nation by MaxPreps. The Lady Raiders, who have only dropped one match this year (Mater Dei, Calif.), swept Mill Creek (25-9, 25-23, 25-16) in the semifinals to earn the championship berth. Juniors Gabby Gonzales (19) and Reilly MacNeill (12) led in kills against Mill Creek and, on the season, have combined for 861 kills. On the opposite side of the net, Etowah seeks its first-ever title. The Lady Eagles got by Newnan (25-22, 26-24, 25-23) to earn the trip to the finals.
Another one wants in!
Defending champion Harrison will look to claim the third title in school history as it takes on Alpharetta in the Class AAAAAA finals. Harrison, which won titles in 2006 and last season, was taken to four sets by Pope in the semifinals. Kaylee Morris leads Harrison with 709 assists and averages 8.6 assists per set. Rosie McHugh and Meg Kastensmidt have combined for 422 kills on the season. Alpharetta will be vying for its first-ever volleyball title, and it should be an interesting matchup. Alpharetta leads Harrison in kills (13.4 per set to 10.9 per set) and total blocks (254 to 162), which could make a repeat tough for the Lady Hoyas.
Who will get to three rings first?
Two high-caliber teams highlight the Class AAAAA championship as McIntosh and Buford both have two state titles to their name. However, Buford, which features six seniors, has won two in a row and defeated McIntosh 3-1 in the championship last season. The Lady Chiefs, who defeated crosstown rival Starr’s Mill to earn the trip to Marietta, are led by two dynamic freshmen — Ngozi Iloh (6-foot-1) and Erykah Lovett (5-foot-9) — who have combined for 502 kills. On the other bench, Buford, which defeated Riverwood to earn the championship berth, lost three matches this season, to Walton, Alpharetta and Wando (S.C.). The Lady Wolves average 12.1 kills per set and are led by seniors Tatum Shipes, Halston Hillier, Avery Cason and Morgan Sutherland, who have combined for 1,108 kills.
Championship pedigrees abound
Marist and Blessed Trinity combine for 13 state championships and are set for a thrilling championship match on Saturday. Marist has seven titles, winning its first in 1994 and second in 1997 when the volleyball championships were an open event. In 1998 and 1999, Marist won the Class AAA title, and in 2000, 2006 and 2014, Marist took the Class AAAA crown. Blessed Trinity has the most recent dominance, however, as the Lady Titans won the Class AAA title in 2006 and then hit their stride, winning five of the last seven they have competed in (2010, 2012, 2014-16).
Local rivals meet again
Just 1.5 miles separates the two Class AAA challengers, but the road to deciding the state champion will require a trip from West Paces Ferry Road to Holy Innocents’ for Pace Academy and Westminster. Westminster will be looking to repeat as the Class AAA champion, and Pace Academy is looking for its first-ever title. Pace moved past North Hall by winning three straight sets after dropping the first, 23-25. The Lady Wildcats were taken to five sets against Lovett in the semifinals before earning their ticket to the championship match.
A whole state apart
The Coosa Lady Eagles and St. Vincent’s come from areas of the state as far from each other as they could possibly get. The Lady Eagles, who are vying for their first-ever title, hail from Rome. The Class AA defending-champion Saints are from Savannah. But both will bring their game to Holy Innocents’ on Saturday. Coosa averages 10.5 kills per set to St. Vincent’s 8.9 kills per set, and the Lady Eagles are led by senior Taylor Roberts, who has 550 kills on the year. Sophomore Kasey Thacker added 321 kills to the mix, and Jordan Roberts has 175. St. Vincent’s is led in kills by sophomores Lizzie Horn (293) and Jessica Schwarz (178).
Can Calvary three-peat?
After defeating Savannah Country Day in three straight sets (25-14, 25-13, 25-20), the Lady Cavaliers of Cavalry Day will be looking for their third state title in a row. Mount Paran, which swept Walker in the semis, is competing in its first-ever state championship. Calvary Day averages more kills per set than Mount Paran (12.1 to 10.8) but the Lady Eagles lead in total blocks (198 to 34) and digs per set (19.2 to 12.6). Sarah-Hayes Farley leads in kills for Mount Paran (426) with Ciara Moore (215), Jordan Hough (141), Elizabeth Bowman (122) and Jillian Tucker (112) having an impact as well. Tynley Smeltzer (216), Sara Daniels (198) and Basia Peragine (183) lead in kills for Calvary Day.