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Relaxed Johnson volleyball team looking to make a run
Lady Knights one of a number of local teams in state tournament
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Johnson High’s Lejavian Ratliff spikes the ball during Johnson High’s volleyball practice Tuesday afternoon. The team is preparing for the first round of the Class AAAA state playoffs.

State tournament

Class AAAAAA

Habersham Central at South Forsyth, 5 p.m., Thursday

Class AAAAA

Creekview at Gainesville, 6 p.m., Thursday

Flowery Branch at Northview, 6 p.m., Thursday

Class AAAA

Northwest Whitfield at Johnson, 5:30 p.m., Wednesday

Chestatee at Dalton, 6 p.m., Wednesday

Class AAA

East Hall at Oconee County, 5 p.m., Wednesday

Buford at Hart County, 5:30 p.m., Wednesday

Class AA

Jefferson at Calhoun, 6:30 p.m., Wednesday

Class A

Lakeview at Holy Innocents’, 7 p.m., Thursday

It might sound ironic, but as Johnson volleyball enters the state tournament as a No. 1 seed for the first time in her eight-year tenure, Lady Knights coach Deb Eidson feels like all the pressure is off.

“That’s what we talked about (Monday),” Eidson said. “I said, ‘ladies, there’s no pressure on us now. This is just all extra. This is just all frosting on the cake.’”

If she’s right, it might be the best-case scenario for a program that last reached the postseason in 2006 and won its last playoff game in 2003. The way the Lady Knights look at it, they’ve already won the area championship and surpassed even their own expectations.

That’s not to suggest, however, they won’t keep winning.

“It’s no pressure whatsoever,” Eidson said, “but in my mind, I think we have a really good chance (today), and I would really love to come away with a win.”

The Lady Knights, along with four other local teams begin play in the state volleyball tournaments Wednesday, while four others will open play Thursday.

Johnson (27-13), which entered the Area 8-AAAA tournament as the No. 2 seed, earned the right to host Northwest Whitfield (6-21) at 5:30 p.m. today by rallying to win the area title over Walnut Grove on Saturday.

The journey didn’t come without its share of tribulations.

The Lady Knights lost in their first match against Walnut Grove, then lost their starting setter, Kelly Chance, to a concussion in a match against Chestatee.

“When we went down against Walnut Grove, my girls had a lot of pressure on them,” Eidson said. “I used some words to motivate them, but I guess it didn’t work, because throughout the day they told me they felt like they had so much pressure on them that they had to win, and I think that went into the Walnut Grove (loss).

“But it was perfect how it all went along."

After Chance was forced out due to injury, Kasey Gravitt entered and helped steady the team, Eidson said.

“I wasn’t quite sure she was ready, but she was and she was amazing,” Eidson said.

With the first loss out of the way, a more relaxed Lady Knights team rolled over Walnut Grove in the championship match in four games.

“There was no pressure on the girls, and I think that’s what helped tremendously,” Eidson said. “After the first game we won, which was the second game, and we just kind of looked at each other and said, ‘wouldn’t it be crazy if we actually won?’ And then after the third game, when we had won that, we looked at each other and said, ‘we can do this.’”

Eidson hopes to keep her team playing loose as it begins play in the state tournament, and is keeping practices “lighthearted” this week.

She also said Tuesday that Chance may be able to return to the court, pending further evaluations.

“She’s been cleared, but they’ve requested that she wear one of those padded martial arts helmets,” Eidson said. “She’s such an aggressive player. She doesn’t take her body into consideration. Her ultimate goal is that ball and she doesn’t care what gets in her way, whether it’s her body or someone else’s.”

Chance leads the Lady Knights with 114 aces and 306 assists on the season. In the area tournament, Johnson was led by Karis Sloan, who leads the team in blocks (41) and is third in kills (150), behind Savannah Turk (181) and Lejavian Ratliff (167).

CLASS AAAAAA: Habersham Central earned a playoff berth in its first season in the state’s largest classification, taking the No. 3 seed from Area 7-AAAAAA.

The Lady Raiders (23-11) will play at South Forsyth (32-18) at 5 p.m. Thursday.

CLASS AAAAA: Gainesville earned the No. 2 seed from Area 8-AAAAA in last week’s tournament and with it will host a playoff match for the first time in program history.

The Lady Red Elephants reached the postseason for the first time last season and advanced to the Class AAA state quarterfinals. They showed little drop-off this year after moving up to Class AAAAA.

Gainesville (34-9) will host Creekview (26-16) at 6 p.m. Thursday.

Flowery Branch also qualified for the playoffs, earning 8-AAAAA’s No. 3 seed after entering the area tournament seeded fifth.

The Lady Falcons (14-24), who missed the postseason last year, will play at Northview at 6 p.m. Thursday.

CLASS AAAA: Despite its loss to Johnson, Chestatee will enter the state playoffs for the first time in school history today.

The Lady War Eagles (16-24) will be the No. 3 seed from Area 8-AAAA and will play at Dalton (21-16), Area 7-AAAA’s No. 2 seed. The match is set for 6 p.m.

CLASS AAA: East Hall earned the first playoff berth in program history last week, taking the No. 4 seed in Area 5-AAA. The Lady Vikings will play at Oconee County at 5 p.m. today.

Buford (39-10), the team that defeated East Hall to earn 5-AAA’s No. 3 seed, will be at Hart County (28-8) at 5:30 p.m. today.

CLASS AA: Jefferson will enter the playoffs as the No. 4 seed from Area 6-AA and will be at Calhoun (27-6-1) at 6:30 p.m. today.

The Lady Dragons (28-15) advanced to the second round of the state tournament last season and are in the playoffs for the fifth straight year.

CLASS A: Lakeview Academy is back in the playoffs for the first time since 2008, and will play at Holy Innocents’ (16-17) at 7 tonight.

The Lady Lions (21-22) defeated Providence Christian in three games last week to earn the No. 4 seed from Area 6-A.

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