The Lady Hoyas made a semifinal run two seasons ago and were points away from beating Walton in the Class AAAAA state finals last season. First they have to outduel their area rival North Cobb for a second straight year and will likely run into two-time defending state champion Walton on their quest for their first state title since 2006.
“We’re preparing ourselves to make a deep run and get over that hump,” Harrison coach Clay Taylor said. “We were there the last three years and fell just short.”
Harrison’s battles with North Cobb became an intriguing storyline last season and the two teams will likely fight it out for the Area 3AAAAAA tournament title. The teams met four times with Harrison winning three. There was also a stint where the teams were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in Class AAAAA last year.
North Cobb’s lone win came in the semifinals of the Cobb County tournament, and the Lady Warriors nearly came from behind to upset the Lady Hoyas in the semifinals of the state tournament. Taylor said it was the stellar play from Caroline Ostman, only a sophomore this season, late in the fifth set that helped Harrison prevail.
In moving forward, both rosters have changed a bit from last season with both teams graduating their top hitters. Both teams are still returning a wealth of experienced varsity players.
The Lady Hoyas, who went on to lose a tough five-setter to Walton in last year’s championship, will have one advantage over North Cobb this year in the fact that it owns one of the state’s strongest setters in Kelly Scott, who has already signed with South Carolina.
North Cobb, on the other hand, is breaking in a new setter in freshman Taylor Parrish. Although she doesn’t have varsity experience yet, Auld is giving her high remarks on both her talent and leadership.
“She’s gifted and has taken command of the team (during the offseason),” he said.
With Scott operating as Harrison’s floor leader, the Lady Hoyas are also counting on sophomore hitters Caroline Ostman and Kodi Smith to take on larger roles following strong freshman seasons a year ago, and junior Catherine Gallagher is returning to her post at libero.
North Cobb has an experienced junior and sophomore class that should help Parrish get acclimated in her role as well as middle hitter Shauntell Luke, the team’s only senior.
“We played (Harrison) twice this summer,” Auld said. “We know each other really well. It’s like playing your sibling. We’ve had our good days and bad days, but it’s been a lot of fun.”
Harrison and North Cobb appear to be in good shape, but until one of them dethrones Walton, the Lady Raiders are favored to win their third straight championship. Walton’s new Area 4AAAAAA will consist of the same teams as last season with the addition of last year’s state semifinalist Roswell, Milton and Marietta.
Walton graduated outside hitter Kelly Murphy, middle blocker Katherine Plessy and libro Morgan Smith, but is returning plenty of experienced players that includes setter Tori Ferguson, outside hitter Chloe Cook and middle blockers Anouska Best and Leah Jackson.
“With Katherine and Kelly gone, though a huge loss to us in many ways, I have witnessed so many girls stepping up and training harder than they ever have before,” Walton coach Suzanne Fitzgerald. “And this is not necessarily something I anticipated so early in the season.”
In the next lowest classification, Pope will vie for its fourth straight state title with a younger roster than Walton. The Lady Greyhounds graduating seven seniors, six of whom are playing Division I volleyball.
Rightside hitter Rachel Reynolds and middle blocker Ashley Savransky after two familiar names returning from last season, but most of Pope’s new lineup will have to adapt to playing varsity full time.
Pope’s area 7AAAAA is expecting to be more challenging, even though it will be facing many of the same opponents that include Sprayberry, Kell, Sequoyah and Creekview. Also joining 7AAAAA are Riverwood and North Springs, both of who made the state tournament in Class AAA.
“I’m excited to get this new group on the court,” Pope coach Bryan Jones said. “They are going to be stepping in some shoes that were rather large shoes from last year. You’re basically trying to take new players, train them and push them as hard as you can.”
Allatoona will be competing for its third straight area championship in Area 5AAAAA and could be in for a battle with Hiram and North Paulding. Dessaa Lagross, who just committed to South Carolina, will lead the team.
In Class A, Walker is gunning for another area title in 4A with fellow Cobb private schools Mount Paran Christian, North Cobb Christian and Whitefield Academy challenging them.
The Lady Wolverines went undefeated in area last season before losing a five-set heartbreaker to Holy Innocents in the second round of the state tournament and will be returning sophomore rightside hitter Brooke Warner and junior defensive specialist Anna Chicollo.