Walton's Katie Strickland goes on the attack against Blessed Trinity's Grace Van Buren during the Rally High Tournament at LakePoint.

Fifteen local volleyball teams will begin the state playoffs today, with Walton, Pope and Mount Paran Christian attempting to defend their respective state championships.

Each team comes into the 2019 tournaments with different rosters after losing key players to graduation or injury.

Walton took the biggest hit, graduating five seniors who contributed greatly to the Lady Raiders’ current run of four state championships. While Walton did return two key defensive players in Madison Morey and Emery Dupes, many of its hitters have taken expanded roles after playing sparingly last season.

Even with new faces in the lineup, the Lady Raiders have maintained their undefeated streak against in-state opponents, having not lost to a Georgia team since 2014.

Walton's quest for a fifth straight title will begin Saturday when it hosts Westlake in the first round of the Class AAAAAAA tournament.

“We are extremely excited and will continue to work as hard as we can to ensure that we can be the best version of ourselves,” Walton coach Suzanne Fitzgerald said. “Each team has a unique personality. This one, yes, I believe they do have something to prove.”

After enduring tough losses in both the county and Region 7AAAAAA tournaments last year, Pope found ways to beat prevail, en route to its first state title in eight years.

Pope is at a disadvantage with last year’s top hitter, Stella Dees, having missed the season with a shoulder injury, leaving the Lady Greyhounds (34-12) to put an emphasis on defense behind Zaren Yesilova and Ava Vrkovic.

Pope did well at county, making it to the semifinals before falling in two sets against Mount Paran Christian. It had a rough start to the region tournament, getting swept by Dunwoody in its opening match before battling its way back to the championship and settling for runner-up behind Alpharetta.

“We don’t like to ride on the success of previous years, but we like to create our team’s new dynamic and new success for this year,” said Pope coach Shawn Darling, whose team will face Douglas County in a neutral-site match at Lee County. “On our end, we take each opponent very seriously, no matter who it is.”

Mount Paran is not as dominant as it was a year ago after graduating Sarah-Hayes Farley, who is now playing at Samford.

Angel and Bella Ferary have emerged as the offensive leaders for the Lady Eagles (28-14), who will be traveling to face Prince Avenue Christian at the Brookstone School in Columbus.

Walker (41-5), which has had its way with Mount Paran this season after the Lady Eagles got the best of them the previous two years, will host Lakeview Academy to begin the state tournament. The Lady Wolverines have a shot to make another deep run behind seniors Kaitlyn Rodriguez, Callaway Cason and Kalieann Weatherington after advancing to the semifinals the previous two seasons.

Meanwhile, Allatoona is capable of making another deep run after falling to Pope in four sets in last year’s championship. The Lady Buccaneers had arguably their biggest win of the season when they came from behind to beat Harrison in three sets to advance to the Region 6AAAAAA tournament final, where they lost to Sequoyah.

The Lady Buccaneers (32-14), who will face Habersham County on Saturday at Drew High School in Atlanta, has found ways to finish after struggling to hold onto leads earlier this year. Chamblee Russell and Callie Miller have sparked the offense going into the state playoffs.

“I don’t know if we’re peaking, but we’re playing better as a team,” Allatoona coach Joe Soley said. “We’re trusting each other, and our main focus is that trust.”


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