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Usual suspects ready to compete for volleyball title
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North Hall senior Catherine Filchak returns a volley Thursday during practice. - photo by Scott Rogers | The Times

If the preseason volleyball rankings are any indication of the quality teams in Class AAA, than two teams from Area 7-AAA should be poised for a long and successful season.

Flowery Branch (No. 6) and West Hall (No.9) both enter the 2008 season ranked in the top 10, further proving that the two schools’ strong volleyball tradition is here to stay.

“Honestly I think that this will be out strongest year ever,” Lady Falcons coach Bryan Mavis said. “This is the strongest team I’ve ever coached.”

Anchoring the Lady Falcons this year is a group of four seniors, led by setter Jennica  Ramey, who set a school record with 616 assists in 2007.

“She’s a perfectionist,” Mavis said of Ramey. “She’s one of the hardest working players I’ve coached.”

Ramey looks to duplicate her successful junior year with help from outside hitters Megan Grewett and Maleigha King, who finished last season with 133 kills.

“That group is the core of the team,” Mavis said of King, Grewett, Ramey and senior libero Devon Reese. “If they’re doing well, then we’ll be doing well.”

While Mavis is counting on a strong core of returning players, the ninth-ranked team in Class AAA is preparing for a season with a young team playing under a first-year coach.

“The success of this year’s team is going to come with the quickness of maturity,” said West Hall’s first-year coach Lauren Hauck. “The faster the younger players get comfortable, the faster we’ll do better.”

Unfortunately for the Lady Spartans, that time to mature will come quickly. Two of West Hall’s first four opponents are ranked in the top-10 of their respective class, including a trip to Harrison High, the tenth-ranked team in Class AAAAA.

“It’ll be a little trial under fire,” said Hauck, whose team will play No. 4-ranked Oconee County on Aug. 23, two weeks before they face a tough area match that includes Flowery Branch, Chestatee, and North Hall, Area 7-AAA’s back-to-back champion. “Those games are going to give them the experience of what a bigger school is capable of putting out there.

“We’re going to show we can compete with any one.”

Also hoping to prove their worth is the North Hall Lady Trojans. Like West Hall, the Lady Trojans enter the 2008 season with a new coach and a lot of question marks.

Five starters are gone from last year’s area championship team, including The Times Player of the Year, Katie Spell.

“We’re going to have different strengths this year,” said North Hall coach Emi Hughes, who is replacing Debbie Wiley as the head coach of the Lady Trojans. “We’re going to be a smaller team, but a more versatile team, and a more defensive team.”

The new strategy is in large part due to the absence of the three big hitters from last year’s team, Spell, Caroline Coker and Courtney Wiley. Hughes is hoping that senior Kathrine Filchak can replace Spell as the top hitter on the Lady Trojans.

Along with the departed seniors, the Lady Trojans literally have a tough road in front of them if they wish to win the area title for the third-straight year. North Hall plays at home only three times this year.

“It’s going to be an uphill battle,” Hughes said.

The final battle of the year could come against either West Hall or Flowery Branch, who hopes to rebound from a disappointing first-round exit from the state tournament in 2007.

“They’re hoping to go a lot further this year,” Mavis said of the attitude of his team. “I’m not going to say how far, but it’s a good bit further.”

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