The quality of volleyball being played in the Bi-City area has skyrocketed over the past few years. A quick glance at the number of teams beginning play in the Georgia High School Association playoffs this week underscores that fact.
Six teams will play first-round matches on Wednesday and Thursday, all of which will be hosted by local teams.
Led, of course, by Columbus, which is on the short list for state title contenders in Class AAAA, there is a good chance the Bi-City may have one of its more successful postseasons in the sport to date.
Gilmer at Columbus
The Lady Blue Devils (38-14) broke in some new starters this year, but have maintained the same level of success they have come to expect out of the program.
Coach Donna Fleming said that comes down to players, whether starters or not, being prepared to make an impact every time they take the floor.
“Success takes everybody embracing their role and being ready to make an impact when they’re out there,” she said. “In our lineup, we basically have 10 starters.”
The team will focus on controlling its own unforced errors. Fleming said she didn’t have a ton of knowledge about Gilmer, but that the team can’t be concerned with the opponent’s record or what it does well.
“They have to concentrate on going out and being consistent,” she said.
Led by six seniors, that hasn’t been a problem thus far.
Johnson-Augusta at Kendrick
Long a power in girls basketball, Kendrick (21-1) has steadily turned itself into a contender in volleyball as well. Despite the improvement, the team has been stuck in the second round the past three seasons.
Coach Sterling Hicks said the goal is to change that this year.
With only one loss, coming Oct. 3 to Lee County, the team appears as good as ever. Hicks said that loss, though, reminded his team not to take opponents for granted, especially not in the playoffs.
“We don’t have time to sleepwalk through it,” he said, before praising his girls’ abilities to remain consistent all year. “They’ve been humble. The realize there are better teams as we go on, so they’re bracing for whatever comes their way.”
Our Lady of Mercy at Brookstone
Like the other coaches, Brookstone’s Cindy Todt wants her girls to remember how dangerous a 4-seed can be.
“The Atlanta area is strong and deep,” she said. “Seeding doesn’t mean a whole lot.”
Still, her team, while having to replace five starters from last season, has matured well throughout the season, maintaining composure in a lot of close games.
Todt said she thought that would be a key strength for her team in the playoffs. She said she also wants her team to be more specialized with its ball placement, thinking about where to hit the ball and strategize on the best places to attack the opponent.
Creekview at Harris County
Harris County (31-10) won a talented area. Still, coach Robert Grant said his team has felt like underdogs despite the success of last season’s postseason, which saw his team make the state quarterfinals.
“So many people expected a lot last year with the seniors,” he said. “Then the seniors graduated and I didn’t feel like people expected a lot. But we work hard and we do the best we can do.”
He said he wasn’t surprised his girls were able to win the area again, and he won’t be surprised if they find similar success in the playoffs, despite occasional inconsistencies.
“We may get down, but there’s no give up or quit in them,” he said. “They keep working regardless of the score. That’s the only way we know how to play.”
Josey at Spencer
Last season, Spencer (13-7) hosted its first postseason contest in region history. This year, it makes it back-to-back seasons.
Under the direction of coach Lamont Sheffield, the Lady Greenwave have continued to improve, but Sheffield wants this year to make its own mark.
“We try to keep last year and this year two separate entities so they can build their own success,” he said. “We don’t feel like we’re repeating.”
The team lost five seniors from last year and had work to do on the back row throughout the season. Sheffield said he thinks it has a good recipe for success now.
“It’s really just another game,” he said of the playoff. “We can’t put too much pressure on ourselves. Just play the game how we know how to play it.”
Allatoona at Northside
Earlier in the season, Northside (29-13) let a big lead against Harris County slip away. Last Thursday, the team found a way to come back and win against similar adversity.
Coach Lindsay Johnson said she hoped that was the confidence-builder her team needed to take into the state tournament.
“Before you find a way to win, you have to find a way not to lose,” she said, pointing out the need to limit careless mistakes and protect its leads.
She said the team has practiced well this week and if it takes care of the ball and doesn’t beat itself, it should be successful.
First round schedule
Gilmer at Columbus, 5 p.m. Wednesday
Johnson-Augusta at Kendrick, 5 p.m. Wednesday
Josey at Spencer, 5 p.m. Wednesday
Our Lady of Mercey at Brookstone, 5 p.m. Thursday
Creekview at Harris County, 6 p.m. Thursday
Allatoona at Northside, 6 p.m. Thursday