CANTON — Allatoona’s volleyball program is expected to contend once again in Class AAAAAA after making it to the state championship match last year.

First, there are still a few kinks to iron out.

The Lady Buccaneers are still grooming younger players to replace outside hitter Emma Ahrens and libero Brianna Stopher, and they also have to beef up their middle hitter positions with Lilly Brody recovering from a knee injury.

Allatoona advanced to the gold bracket semifinals by winning its pool of the Sequoyah Classic before losing a three-set marathon to the host Lady Chiefs.

Allatoona beat Cherokee and Norcross in pool play before falling to Starr’s Mill in three sets. Once bracket play commenced, the Lady Buccaneers beat the Heritage School and South Forsyth in straight sets to advance to the semifinals.

“We got a little tired because it is early in the season. We played six matches in two days,” Allatoona coach Joe Soley said. “Overall, we played some good volleyball. I got a strong schedule (this season). I don’t want to peak too early.”

Freshman outside hitter Jackie Weller looked promising as Ahrens’ replacement and is already adjusting to setter Annie Smith, Soley said. He said it is only a matter of the duo getting stronger as the season progresses.

Savannah Keener also had a strong tournament as the new libero after playing defensive specialist a year ago.

The middle-blocking positions are where Allatoona is still experimenting. Soley switched Cayla Kalinowski from right-side to middle during the Sequoyah tournament, while Callie Miller moved from middle hitter to right side for blocking purposes.

“Callie is our best blocker,” Soley said. “If you can’t get a lot of sets to the middle, she’s useless. We need her to block from the right side and still swing. She knows the net, she swings well and I need another arm.”

Outside hitter Chamblee Russell, a Georgia Southern commit, continues to be reliable in leading Allatoona’s offense, finishing with nearly 60 kills for the tournament.

Kennesaw Mountain, which won Region 3AAAAAAA last season, got off to a promising start as well, also advancing to the semifinals.

Like Allatoona, the Lady Mustangs are having to find replacements after graduating outside hitter Meghan Cobelli, libero Olivia Zimmer and middle hitter Maya Harris — all of whom were three-year starters.

The highlight for Kennesaw Mountain was beating defending Class AAAAAA state champion Pope to advance to the semifinals.

Once the Lady Mustangs faced Etowah for a chance to play for the championship, they ran into trouble against sisters Savannah and Sydney Bray — who combined for 19 kills — and dropped a 25-20, 25-13 decision.

Kennesaw Mountain’s offense was widespread against Etowah, with Olivia Pugh leading with five kills, freshman Malana Thorton finishing with four and Emily Maccocks and Natalie Krasnoff finishing with three each. Krasnoff also produced 16 assists.

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