FLOWERY BRANCH–Senior Brittani Hill sees the Flowery Branch volleyball team as a car, one which is now cruising toward a second-straight No. 1 seed from Area 8-AAAA North and a chance at another state playoff appearance.
But it wasn’t long ago that the car was sputtering.
“When we’re playing together we cruise,” Hill said. “ But we have to get over roadblocks along the way.”
Flowery Branch (19-14, 7-2) started the season just 3-10, a year after reaching the state tournament and finishing first in the sub-area in the Lady Falcons’ inaugural year in Class AAAA.
The team, led by four starting seniors, only reached the .500 mark on Sept. 20.
That 13th win, over 8-AAAA South opponent Clarke Central, set the tone for the rest of the season.
“Beating Clarke Central on Senior Night was probably the sweetest win of the year,” said Flowery Branch coach Rick Godfrey.
The Lady Falcons have gone 6-1 since then, and only need to take down Winder-Barrow on Thursday to secure the sub-area’s top seed once again; a big statement for a team that is only in its second season in Class AAAA.
“It’s been tough and it’s been a challenge,” Hill said of playing in the higher classification. “But I like the tough matches, that’s when you see the true side of us.”
The Lady Falcons first proved themselves in the new area last season, knowing almost nothing about any of the teams in front of them.
The Apalachee volleyball team was rampaging through the first part of its schedule, pounding area and non-area teams alike on the way to a 22-0 record to start the season.
Flowery Branch, having already recorded five area wins, went down to Apalachee and stopped the Lady Cats’ seemingly unstoppable run, and in the process served notice that while the Lady Falcons may have moved up in classification, they were anything but overmatched.
“That was a big win for us,” Godfrey said. “And a big loss for them.”
Flowery Branch went to win 8-AAAA North by one match over Apalachee and advance to the first round of state before the season came to a close.
This season, the Lady Falcons have once again defeated both Apalachee and Habersham Central, their two closest competitors for the sub-area crown.
“Coach Godfrey does a great job up there and he will be able to compete for a region title this year,” Apalachee coach Joey Alfonso said. “We hope to be right there with them in the end.”
The reason Flowery Branch has been so successful again this season starts with the senior starers, three of which have been leading the turnaround this season. Hill leads the team in kills, setter Kenzie Grewett has the ability to deliver the ball to any spot on the floor in a wide-open offense, and middle blocker Amber Merchant presents a serious problem to opposing offenses.
But coach Godfrey stressed that it is because of the entire team that they have done so well, winning 16 of their last 20 matches.
“Everybody’s contributed,” Godfrey said. “They’re a different team than they were early in the season.”
Now the Lady Falcons have once again put themselves in position to win the sub-area and make a run at state. But Hill wants another shot at one of the few teams they have yet to get past: 8-AAAA South’s top team.
“Rockdale,” Hill said when asked who she’d like to face again. “We want to beat Rockdale.”
Flowery Branch lost 25-18, 25-21 in the regular season match, but if the Lady Falcons clinch the North on Thursday and the seedings hold, the two would meet once again in the championship match of the area tournament at Habersham Central.
Last year, Flowery Branch stopped the unstoppable team in Apalachee; this year the squad held off a talented Clarke Central team. Rockdale County is just one more roadblock the Lady Falcons are working to pass.