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Prep volleyball: 7-AAA tourney tips off today
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Dahlonega resident Jim Smulian, spokesman for Citizens for Open and Responsible Government Inc., explains why the group asked the state Environmental Protection Division to halt all construction in Lumpkin County for at least a year. The request was made because of the drought the county has been experiencing.

Entering last year’s Region 7-AAA tournament, the North Hall volleyball team had won 13 consecutive games and despite not being the favorite to win, beat West Hall for the region title.

Like last season, if ending the regular season with momentum is an indication of how well a team does in the postseason, it bodes well for North Hall (23-7, 8-1).

The No. 2-seeded Lady Trojans enter the start of today’s Region 7-AAA volleyball tournament having won 16 out of their final 17 games including a sweep of Class AAA No. 10-ranked Flowery Branch.

North Hall is led by a crop of veteran players in Lauren Bolton, Caroline Coker —MVP of the 2006 region tournament — Sara Anne McCoun, Jennifer Morris, Katie Spell and Courtney Wiley.

At outside hitter, North Hall has three experienced players in Wiley, Katherine Filchak and Danielle Hollander. The team boasts two experienced senior setters in McCoun and Morris.

In 2006, perennial 7-AAA powerhouse West Hall (23-15, 9-0) amassed a 33-10 record and made it to the quarterfinals of the state tournament.

Then they lost all but one starter.

With that one returning starter, senior setter Whitney Delp, the top-seeded Lady Spartans began the season with four straight losses, but have rebounded nicely going 18-3 over their last 21 games.

"Nobody is more surprised than I am about how well our team’s done," said West Hall coach Sharon Qualls. "We have been the underdog and have a lot less experience than everyone else and are, at most every position, shorter than our opponents."

For offense, the Lady Spartans will rely on their outside hitters — sophomore Erica Grainger and junior Abigail Grindle, who according to her coach is hitting the ball well coming into the tournament. Seniors Courtney Cox and Kayla Davis will help the offense as well.

West Hall is looking for its seventh consecutive trip to the Class AAA state tournament.

The top four finishers in the Region 7-AAA tournament will play in the state tournament Oct. 27.

The tenth-ranked Lady Falcons (23-16, 5-4) are the No. 5 seed in the region tournament and will look to junior setter Jennica Ramey, who led the area in assists in 2006, to lead them to a region title.

Flowery Branch warmed up for the start of today’s tournament by playing Class AAAA’s Whitewater (lost 0-2) and Cedar Shoals (won 2-0) as well as Class AAAAA South Forsyth (lost 0-2).

Johnson, the No. 4-seed this year, finished third in 7-AAA in 2006 and earned a trip to the state playoffs. The Lady Knights enter today’s tournament on a three-game winning streak and have won 10 of their last 12 games.

Johnson (24-15, 6-3) will face off against Flowery Branch in the opening round of the tournament. The Lady Knights swept Flowery Branch during the regular season.

Johnson, will need the help of regular season standouts Jordan Howard, Susie Boleman and Jordan Gustavel to win its way back to the state tournament.

No. 8 Gainesville (1-27) and No. 9 Chestatee (11-19) will face off at 4:30 today at North Hall with the winner advancing to play West Hall.

Gainesville is led by junior Taylor Ricketts, a "do-it-all player," according to Gainesville coach Jon Ricketts.

Chestatee’s standout is senior outside hitter Erica Lackey.

According the Qualls, with the parity that exists in Region 7-AAA the tournament title is up for grabs.

"With the girls playing so much in the offseason and getting more interested and going to individual camps, it really makes it difficult for one team to dominate," she said.

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