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Area volleyball programs look to reclaim success in 2013
Gainesville High’s volleyball team warms up by running laps around the gymnasium prior to practice Tuesday afternoon.

Important dates

Sept. 14 East Hall Spikefest

Oct. 8-10 Area tournament

Oct. 16-17 First round state tournament

Oct. 22 Second round state tournament

Oct. 26 State quarterfinals

Oct. 30 State semifinals

Nov. 1-2 State championships

Randi Orr is in the midst of her second rebuilding project at the helm of the Gainesville High volleyball program.

After leading the Red Elephants to the state playoffs in her first two years as coach, something their volleyball program never achieved prior to that, she is now trying to get the same winning results out of a much younger 2013 program.

“We have a new, young team but it’s been pretty exciting,” said Orr, who led Gainesville to the state quarterfinals in 2012.

After graduating six seniors from last year, Red Elephants junior Sydney Calkins, a right-side hitter, will be their most experienced player back.

Orr is also excited about the addition of freshman outside hitter Bethany Whitenton, who the coach says is a year-round volleyball player and already has an extensive knowledge of the sport.

“To have a chance to coach her for four seasons is going to be a great experience,” Orr said.

New to Gainesville’s program this season is sophomore Morgan Frazier, who played last year at Flowery Branch, and a trio of freshmen including Bessie Winston, Elyssa Turner and Sydney King that Orr expects to be able to contribute early.

The Lady Red Elephants, who finished 23-12 last season, open the season Thursday with a best-of-five match at Jefferson.

In Class AAAA, Johnson returns after winning the Area 8 title last season.

The Lady Knights, who had 40 players tryout this season according to coach Deb Eidson, are led by the return of senior setters Kelly Chance and Kasey Gravitt, as well as senior libero Caitlin Parsons.

Eidson is also pleased with the progress of junior outside hitters Cassie McDonald and Brooke Balenger.

In Area 5-AAA, a handful of local programs are grouped for the second year with defending state champion Blessed Trinity (54-2 in 2012) and runner-up St. Pius X (43-18-1).

“I feel like we’re in the most difficult and most competitive area in the state by any stretch,” West Hall coach Joe Nelson said.

The Spartans were ranked in the top 10 during the season last year, but still unable to make the postseason. This year, West Hall (25-17 last season) is led by senior Kelsi Jones, who Nelson believes is one of the best players in the area, and senior outside hitter Emily Grainger.

North Hall is also looking to find its way into the postseason from Area 5-AAA.

Leading the Trojans this season for coach Emi Hughes are senior setter Kristina Gregory and 6-foot middle hitter Jen Mullican.

Hughes expects outside hitter Julie Daniels to be back healthy from an anterior cruciate ligament injury last season, while Sydney Cleveland is almost ready to play after a similar injury from basketball in 2012.

“We’re very excited to play in this volleyball Area,” said Hughes, whose Trojans open the season with a tri-match against Lakeview Academy and Lumpkin County on Tuesday in Gainesville. “To be the best, you have to be able to beat the best.”

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