Allatoona went from not not knowing who would replace players at key positions at the beginning of the season to winning a state championship at the end of the season.
In between, coach Joe Soley had to make lots of lineup and rotational decisions.
In many ways, the season like a chess match, and he ended up winning in the end.
It wasn’t until the Class AAAAAA state tournament when he discovered that O’Niece Roberts was an outside hitter who could compliment Chamblee Russell.
It turned out to be the right move.
Two matches later, Allatoona beat Region 6AAAAAAA rival Sequoyah in five sets to win its first state championship after losing its previous three season meetings to the Chiefs.
It was the perfect ending of the 2019 season for the Lady Buccaneers after falling to Pope in four sets in last year’s championship match.
“What a great feeling,” said Soley, who was named the 2019 Marietta Daily Journal/Cobb County Volleyball Coach of the Year, “obviously from being there last year and having the disappointing ending, but I don’t know if I should consider it disappointing when you make it to the state championship.
“I’m happy for the players, coaching staff and school winning their first state championship in volleyball. We’re still riding high. Now, we know what it feels like, and it’s the best feeling.”
Allatoona was inconsistent at times during the first half of the season, and much of that had to do with finding the right personnel. Soley was switching rotations with Roberts and freshman Jackie Weller as the second outside hitter. Whie Soley complimented their performances, the Lady Buccaneers still had trouble winning close matches.
There were matches where it appeared Russell was providing the bulk of the offense, and Russell did take a lot of swings, finishing with a school record 697 kills.
It wasn’t until the state quarterfinals when Allatoona decided to play Roberts on more of a full-time basis. He said she just happened to be the right player at the time.
Roberts ended up with eight kills in Allatoona’s straight set win over Alpharetta in the state semifinals and had 16 more in the state championship against Sequoyah.
“I don’t know what clicked in her head,” Soley said. “I think Chamblee and some of the other seniors stayed positive with her. You could tell some of our seniors were pulling her aside. I don’t know what they said. Probably, ‘You got this. We need you. You’re there. You’re our other outside hitter.’ It worked. O’Niece Roberts was our sleeper.”
If there was another turning point of the season, it would be Allatoona’s region tournament consolation win against Harrison. With the winner playing Sequoyah for the championship, the Lady Buccaneers rallied from an 11-3 final set deficit to stun Harrison. Although Allatoona went on to lose the region tournament title to Sequoyah, they seemed to have things figured out going into the state tournament.
It helped that Roberts raised her game once the postseason began, and Soley said her performance level in the state championship match made it tough for Sequoyah.