State volleyball tournament
Saturday's first-round matches
Class AAAA: Flowery Branch at Evans
Class AAA: West Hall vs. Troup; North Hall at Shaw
Class AA: Buford at Wesleyan; Jefferson at St. Vincents
Momentum can carry a team a long way in the playoffs, and although it might seem odd, so can disappointment.
For the West Hall Lady Spartans (26-16), the No. 2 seed from Area 8-AAA, the momentum came in the form of three straight wins in last Saturday’s area volleyball tournament, including one over North Hall, which didn’t have a program until West Hall coach Joe Nelson initiated it in 1997.
“I felt like the whole year we were capable of competing with the best teams in our area,” said Nelson, whose team has won 13 of 18 matches entering Saturday’s first-round state playoff match against Troup. “I always had faith in the girls that we’d pull this off.”
So too did North Hall coach Emi Hughes, whose Lady Trojans were ranked in the top 10 the majority of the season but will now open the playoffs on the road after a disappointing third-place finish in the area tournament.
“You don’t ever want to lose, but it kind of put things in perspective,” Hughes said. “The girls are more hungry than they have been all year.”
That hunger will only increase as the Lady Trojans make the trek to Columbus on Saturday to take on Shaw, the No. 2 seed from Area 2-AAA. Hughes, like Nelson, enters the tournament knowing little about her first-round opponent.
“For us, it’s an advantage,” Hughes said of the lack of knowledge. “I’d rather not focus on our opponent, I just want us to focus on playing North Hall volleyball.
“Hopefully (the trip down there) will give us some time to get focused,” she added. “There’s nothing like a good road trip as long as you come back happy.”
Flowery Branch coach Rick Godfrey is hoping for the same, as his Lady Falcons (21-11) open the Class AAAA tournament at Evans, the No. 2 seed from Area 2-AAAA and a team he knows little about.
“At this point, anybody that’s in it is good,” Godfrey said. “I fully expect them to be ready to play and my team is ready. We’re just going to prepare the best we can.”
While none of the coaches can rely on game tape to scout their opponent, Hughes and Godfrey have the luxury of having players who have been to the postseason before.
“I think having a strong volleyball tradition helps more,” said Godfrey, who has three girls who played on last year’s team that reached the sweet 16. “These girls expect to win and be able to compete. That’s a big part of (success): believing that you can.”
After their journey through the area tournament, the Lady Spartans believe they can too.
“The kids’ confidence level is up,” Nelson said. “They know they can’t dwell on failure, they have to build on success, and they’ve done that recently.”
Two other area schools reached the postseason in Class A/AA. Buford (37-9), the No. 3 seed from Area 4-A/AA, opens the playoffs at Wesleyan, while Jefferson (34-10), the No. 3 seed from Area 8-A/AA, visits St. Vincents.