The East Hall volleyball program has never been better.
In the sixth year of Lady Vikings coach Ted Deppe’s tenure, the team is on track for its first winning season in program history.
“When I started six years ago, we had won one match the year before,” Deppe said. “It’s taken longer than I would have liked, but the girls have finally bought into the mindset that they can win. We had our first 20-win season last year, and hopefully we’ll have the first winning season this year.
“We’re finally getting some athletes to come out and give it a shot.”
The breakthrough for the program has happened just in time, because East Hall’s area opponents have never been tougher.
The No. 7-ranked Lady Vikings (16-7, 2-2 Area 5-AAA) are joined this season by No. 1 Blessed Trinity (23-0, 2-0), No. 3 St. Pius X (17-11, 2-0), No. 8 West Hall (13-7, 2-2) and No. 9 Buford (10-10, 3-1).
“I think that we’re in the toughest area in Class AAA for sure,” Deppe said. “And in one of the toughest in the state.”
West Hall coach Joe Nelson, whose squad is dealing with injuries, including an unspecified injury to one of his key players in Kelsi Jones, laid out the tough task to make state.
“East Hall is having its best season, Decatur has one of the best setters I have seen, Buford is tall and talented. Blessed Trinity and St. Pius, well one could be playing a small college team; these folks recruit from elite club teams in Atlanta,” he said. “And Emi (Hughes), at North Hall, could easily bite someone. Her team is scrappy and keeps the ball in play, playing on your mistakes.
“With five of the top 10 in the state being from our area, it will be tough to make state.”
Deppe’s East Hall squad played St. Pius X on Tuesday, losing in two sets — for the first time this season — against one of the two area teams, along with Blessed Trinity, that he said are a step above the rest in the area. East Hall also dropped a tough, three-set match to Buford on Tuesday, a team that Deppe said his squad can play with and possibly defeat come area tournament time.
The Lady Vikings will compete in the Darlington Invitational on Saturday. Matches against Decatur on Tuesday and against West Hall on Oct. 2 could go along way to decide the seeding for the area tournament behind the top-two spots.
Deppe said the real key for the Lady Vikings is to make it out of the area, even if it’s as the No. 4 team.
“I told the team that if we can make it out of the (area) at No. 4, we could play a No. 1 that hasn’t played the teams we have,” Deppe said. “You really see the talent that’s out there when you see those teams.”
East Hall may not be there yet, but with the play of junior Kara Hix (leading the state in digs), Tarryn Long (11th in total kills), Emily Hoggard (16th in kills), Brittany Campbell (fifth in assists, fourth in aces) and others, the Lady Vikings are taking the program to another level.
GAINESVILLE MEETS ITS MATCH: Both the Gainesville and Apalachee players knew that Tuesday night’s meeting would very likely be the toughest test in Area 8-AAAAA this season, said Lady Red Elephants coach Randi Orr.
Apalachee’s (20-1, 5-0) three-set victory in Gainesville now has the Lady Red Elephants (14-6, 3-1) working to learn from their mistakes as they look to the rest of the area schedule.
“They gave us a good outline of where we are, so we’re focusing on the errors that we made and the good things that they did,” Orr said. “They cover the floor better, so we’re going to have to make sure we catch every ball. And we need to keep the lead. Once we lost the lead, we had a hard time catching up.”
The Gainesville players have a chance to put to practice what they’ve learned Thursday when they host Chestatee and area opponent Clarke Central.
Regardless, the Lady Red Elephants have certainly had plenty of game time to improve this season, having played three-set matches many times this season, including against both opponents Tuesday night.
“We’ve been going to three games with nearly every team we’ve been playing, so right now we’re focusing on being the first team to finish,” Orr said. “We’re physically where we need to be, we just need to be mentally tough.”
JEFFERSON OPENS AREA PLAY: The No. 4-ranked Lady Dragons (15-6, 1-2) played every area opponent Tuesday in the four-team Area 6-AA, defeating Rabun County and falling to No. 1 Wesleyan and No. 3 Greater Atlanta Christian.
Jefferson, which is assured of a state berth regardless of its area record, returns to the non-area schedule Thursday with matches at home against Monroe Area and Johnson.