After the most successful season in North Hall volleyball's history, the team is preparing to take the next step.
When the Lady Trojans begin their season today, they will be trying to follow a season in which they made it all the way to the Class AAA state quarterfinals, further than any North Hall squad had before.
And with four key starters returning, head coach Emi Hughes thinks her team can improve.
"I think so," Hughes said. "I hope so. We're working hard and they're acting like they're ready to move forward.
They really want to keep getting better, and it shows."
While the team lost first-team All-Area players Lauren Gregory and Kathryn Bell, it will return twins Mary Kate and McKenna Rushton, Sarah Paschal and Madison Copeland - four key pieces to a team that compiled a 28-14 record a year ago.
Despite the fact that the team will introduce a new setter, Christina Gregory, who Hughes said should help the offense right away, Hughes thinks her team can continue what the 2010 edition started.
"Honestly, I feel like, having a majority of our starters back, we should pick up right where we left off," she said. "I expect great things this year."
The Lady Trojans will begin the season in a tie for the No. 10 ranking in the state.
Their first match will come today at home against Buford and Lakeview. Within the region, Hughes said her team's biggest competition will come from No. 3 Oconee County, the 2010 Region 8-AAA champs, and West Hall.
"One of our big goals is to compete with (Oconee County)," Hughes said. "We're going to sort of use them as a measuring stick for where we are."
West Hall, while unranked, will return six of 10 players from a team that went 27-17 and advanced to the region semifinals a year ago. Three of the six - Tanya Bennett, Stephanie Rowland and Summer Schmeltz - are seniors.
Bennett was second-team All-Area as a junior with 149 kills at middle hitter. Coach Joe Nelson said he expects strong seasons out of all three of them.
"I expect big things," Nelson said. "They were great for us a year ago, and I really think they can be even better this year."
He will also return Laykin Herford, who set an assists record in her first year on the team last season.
Nelson said the main thing that will help his team this year is the experience that the team has occasionally lacked in the past.
"Unlike the last two years where we were still pretty good, our level of experience this year is quite high," he said. "Finishing where we were last year and with a lot of returning players, we expect to be a lot better."
The Lady Spartans will begin their season today at the East Hall Community Center. Opponents will be East Hall, Habersham Central and Flowery Branch.
Around the area
The East Hall Lady Vikings volleyball season is already off to a successful start over the weekend. The team went 3-1 at the East Jackson playdate with wins over Cedar Shoals, Madison County and Lumpkin County. It is the best start in the program's history, according to coach Ted Deppe.
"This team was really young a year ago," Deppe said. "It's still pretty young. But they've worked really hard this summer, and they're finally getting to a place where they believe they can win."
Elsewhere in the area, Gainesville looks to improve in 2011 with the help of transfer student Kaylin Waldin, who will take over at setter, a position coach Randi Orr said the team needed to improve upon.
"We needed to improve there," she said. "Kaylin has great court awareness which should help us out quite a bit."
With that addition and eight returning players, she said, her expectations for the season are high.
Lakeview, meanwhile, returns four seniors who were selected as honorable mentions to the 2010 All-Area team. It will begin its quest for a return to the postseason at North Hall today.