Volleyball state semifinals preview

Perry McIntyre

Class AAAAAA

South Forsyth had already topped Harrison twice in the regular season and took a five-set victory over the Hoyas on Saturday to earn a trip to No. 1 Walton for the spot in the Class AAAAAA championship. The Hoyas knocked South Forsyth out in the quarterfinals last season, and with the script flipped the War Eagles advance to their first semifinal match in school history.

No. 1 Walton is looking for a fourth-straight state championship and to continue building the Raider dynasty. The team has not dropped a set in the state tournament and posted a (25-16, 25-15, 25-11) victory over Lassiter on Saturday.

6-foot-1 Walton senior Jessica Sloan has plenty of championship experience and looks to finish her accomplished varsity career without any playoff losses. Sloan had 10 kills and three aces in the win over Lassiter. Lindsay Seagraves, Brooke Landon, Leah Jackson and sophomore setter Celeste Fitzgerald lead a well-balanced and consistent Raiders team.

No. 3 Johns Creek at No. 2 Chattahoochee will crown the other Class AAAAAA finalist. These two teams have already faced three times this season with Chattahoochee winning twice. Georgia Tech-commit Annika Olsen recorded 14 kills in the Gladiators’ 3-1 quarterfinals victory over North Cobb and leads Johns Creek’s attack.

Tennessee-commit Claudia Coco leads a talented and experienced Chattahoochee team. The senior needed just eight games into her senior season to break the previous state record of 1,930 career digs and added 30 more digs to her historic career in the Cougars 3-1 win over Roswell on Saturday. 6-foot senior Haley Templeton had 18 kills, 34 assists and 20 digs in the victory.

Class AAAAA

Northgate knocked out 2012 state champion Whitewater (21-25, 25-21, 25-12, 25-19) on Saturday to earn its place in the Class AAAAA Final Four. Randee Harvel paced the Vikings with 25 kills and 10 digs. The Vikings beat Whitewater twice in the regular season but lost a pair of matchups to the Wildcats in the region tournament prior to Saturday’s win. Northgate will face another familiar opponent for a spot in the championship with No. 1 McIntosh on Wednesday.

Rhana Mitchell has recorded more than 350 kills this season for McIntosh and Rheagan Mitchell has surpassed the 200 kills mark for the year. The Chiefs swept Northgate in both meetings this season and McIntosh overwhelmed the Vikings in the September 28th match (25-11, 25-12). The two Mitchell seniors combined for 18 of McIntosh’s 27 kills in the September rout.

No. 3 Dunwoody will take on No. 2 Sequoyah after topping No. 6 Apalachee (28-26, 25-19, 25-11) in the quarterfinals. The Wildcats have plenty of confidence and momentum behind them heading into Wednesday and have been on a roll this postseason. The team won its first area title since 2005, that came with two wins over Lakeside, DeKalb in one day. Since the playoffs started, Dunwoody has swept Warner Robins, Hiram and Apalachee to reach the Final Four and is riding its longest winning-streak of the season at seven games.

Sequoyah’s winning-streak extended to 29 games on Saturday with a 3-0 win over Glynn Academy and it stands as the longest streak seen in the state this season. Logan Page recorded 19 assists, four kills, seven digs and three blocks in the win and Kelley Hartman totaled nine kills, four blocks, three aces and three digs.

Class AAAA

Two-time defending state champion Sandy Creek will visit No. 1 Columbus in the Class AAAA semifinals. Columbus has rolled through the postseason and posted a (25-20, 25-13, 25-10) sweep over Chestatee in the quarterfinals. Sophomore Madison Pleming had 31 assists in the victory and Brianna Gogins had 11 kills on her 15 attempts.

Sandy Creek used a 25-9 win in the fourth game to take a 3-1 victory over Veterans in the quarterfinals. The Patriots are led by senior Sydney Wilson who posted 18 of Sandy Creek’s 50 kills on Saturday.

With River Ridge’s 3-0 sweep over Walnut Grove on Saturday, the Knights became the first athletic program to reach the semifinals of a state tournament in school history. The No. 3 Knights will visit No. 2 Marist on Wednesday for a matchup between an up-and-coming program and a perennial power. River Ridge’s Jess Mlaska had 14 kills in Saturday’s match including eight in the deciding third game. Olivia Stasevich added 13 digs and Megan Connelly added 12 in the win.

Since 1994, Marist has won six state titles and this year’s War Eagles are captained by seniors Josie Stander and Bailey Weiland. Marist earned the No. 1 seed after winning the Area-5 championship and swept West Laurens, Southeast Whitfield and Locust Grove this postseason.

Class AAA

A trio of Area 3 teams in Blessed Trinity, Buford and St. Pius X are part of the Class AAA final four. Heading into its second match of 2013 against Buford, No. 1 seed St. Pius X took the Sept. 10 regular-season meeting 25-18, 22-25, 25-19. Senior outside hitter Leah Hardeman set a school record earlier this season with 28 kills in a match. Woodward Academy, an Area 2 representative, has faced both Buford and St. Pius X this season, but has not yet clashed with Blessed Trinity.

The War Eagles have won eight matches in a row and 20 straight sets. Second-seeded Blessed Trinity won all six of its sets in the first two rounds of state by a margin no closer than 25-15 after losing to St. Pius X 3-2 in a thrilling area championship. The Titans have captured state titles two of the past three seasons (Class AA/A in 2010 and Class AAA in 2012).

Class AA

The second of the two five-set quarterfinal showdowns, this one in Class AA, saw Jefferson hold off St. Vincent’s Academy 25-22, 25-23, 13-15, 13-15, 15-8. Grace Williams had 10 digs and eight kills in the winning effort after recording seven digs and 15 kills during second-round sweep of Calhoun. Next up for the Dragons is top-seeded Westminster, which swept both Coosa and Greater Atlanta Christian prior to a quarterfinal bye.

The four remaining teams in Class AA are from Area 4 (Westminster and Lovett) and Area 6 (Jefferson and Wesleyan). No. 2 seed Wesleyan, which swept Putnam County and Laney before getting a quarterfinal bye, has already defeated Lovett once this season. The Wolves prevailed 25-21, 25-22 on Aug. 24. Westminster is still bidding for its first state crown since 2008 (Class AA/A) after losing a 3-2 heartbreaker to Lovett in last year’s championship match.

“Even though we fell short of the state title, I was so proud of my team for making it as far as we did,” Westminster senior captain Ellie Hogan reflected on the 2012 campaign. “Since we had such a young team last year, we entered this season understanding the importance of what it means to be a part of a team and working as a cohesive unit on the court. We played a lot of talented teams in 2013 to get ready for the playoffs and it would be the perfect ending to an amazing season if we win the championship.”

Class A

Class A No. 1 seed Holy Innocents’ is facing Eagle’s Landing Christian for the second time this season after winning the matchup 25-14, 25-16 on Aug. 24. Both teams dropped only one set on their way to the last four. Eagle’s Landing Christian captured the Class AA/A championship in 2011 but lost to Savannah Christian 3-1 in last season’s second round. Savannah Christian is through to the semis for a second straight year following 3-0 sweeps of George Walton Academy, Paideia and Darlington. Next for the Raiders is Hebron Christian Academy, which defeated defending champion Landmark Christian in five sets during second-round action.

“We’ve thought of ourselves as underdogs in the past when we got to this point, but this year we are stronger,” senior outside hitter Sydney Harper told the Savannah Morning News. “We aren’t depending on one player. If everyone keeps working together, I think we can win it.”