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Walton’s Liz Norman will try to help lead the Lady Raiders to another state title, but this time they will have to do it through a bracket that doesn’t split the tournament into north vs. south.

The state tennis tournament brackets in Class AA-AAAAAA are structured like other sports for the first time.

Instead of having the Region 1-4 playoff teams in the top half of the bracket and teams in Regions 5-8 taking the bottom half, all the regions are devided on all four sides to balance the competition.

That’s going to be change for the west Cobb teams currently in Region 4AAAAAA.

For the past three seasons, three out of the four boys teams out of 4AAAAAA advanced to the state quarterfinals in the top half of the bracket.

In 2014, all four girls teams from Region 4AAAAAA – Kennesaw Mountain, Hillgrove, North Cobb and Harrison ended up playing each other in the state quarterfinals.

Last year, three girls teams from Region 4AAAAAA made the elite eight with six-time region champion Kennesaw Mountain eventually making their first appearance in a state championship match.

This year, the teams out of 4AAAAAA may not get to the semifinals without bumping into a traditional powerhouse from east Cobb, north Fulton or Gwinnett County, which makes for a tougher road.

“It will definitely be a tougher road to get to the final four than we’ve had in the past, it’s definitely a different look for us,” Kennesaw Mountain boys coach Philip Matthews said. “There have been good teams in south Georgia, but it’s generally a little easier path. This will be a tougher road.”

There are also tradeoffs to this new format, especially for the lower seeds out of the region. The amount of travel in the early rounds would be reduced.

“It’s better for us I think, in terms of having to drive so far,” Hillgrove boys coach Scott Hill said. “I personally like it. We’re going to have tougher rounds early, but teams will be closer for sure.”

This season, all four Region 4AAAAAA representatives from both genders are expected to be tested early and that’s what some of the coaches prefer.

The Region 4AAAAAA champion Hillgrove boys could bump into Brookwood in the second round after beating Valdosta in the first round Monday.

Kennesaw Mountain, the region’s No. 2 seed, could see Parkview in the second and possibly Chattahoochee or Norcross in the state quarterfinal. If Harrison beats Lowndes on the road in the opening round, Region 5AAAAAA runner-up Etowah could give Harrison second-round trouble.

And the Campbell boys, the No. 2 seed out of Region 3AAAAAA, could see North Gwinnett in its second round matchup if the Spartans beat Newton.

The North Cobb girls, the No. 3 seed out of Region 4AAAAAA could face Region 5AAAAAA champion Etowah in the second round if they beat Lowndes in the opener. Brookwood could be waiting for Marietta in the second round if Marietta beat Colquitt County at home.

Kennesaw Mountain’s road to the semifinal could go through Woodstock, Parkview or North Gwinnett if the Lady Mustangs survive Valdosta.

“It’s fine that it’s consistent with the other brackets,” Kennesaw Mountain girls coach Connie Bailey said. “It might be a little tougher road but it allows the teams who consistently been in the playoffs to see other teams. I think it’s good for the overall sport.”

Walton boys coach John Evans, whose team is gunning for a second straight state title, feels the same way.

“I’m glad it’s back to the traditional bracket,” he said. “It sorts out the regions better and I think more of the top teams can make a strong finish without having beat each other in the early rounds.”

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