Prep Volleyball: County title up for grabs tonightBy DOUG GORMAN
If this year’s Coweta County volleyball tournament follows the usual script, the Northgate Lady Vikings should like their chances.
Then again, East Coweta and Newnan might just have something to say about the seven-time defending Lady Vikings’ dominance at tonight’s county championships. The tourney is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. at East Coweta's John Thrower Gym.
On Wednesday, Newnan’s JV Lady Cougars won the county JV tournament with wins over East Coweta (25-22, 25-13) and Northgate (25-19, 26-24).
Lady Cougars varsity head coach Leslie Fant understands how important winning both the JV and varsity tournaments could be in a competitive environment for volleyball.
“There are bragging rights as stake,” she said. “They know the importance of winning the tournament and to our girls at Newnan, it is would be almost as good as making it to the state tournament.”
Although Northgate has won the event seven straight times, even Lady Viking head coach Matt Trucks knows his team can’t expect to be handed the title.
“Both East Coweta and Newnan have really improved,” Trucks said. “Volleyball is much more competitive than it used to be in this county, and it is one of those deals where anybody can win it.”
Still, Trucks should like his team’s chances to continue to the winning streak.
Northgate is 14-4 overall and ranked fifth in the gasports.com Class AAAAA Coaches’ poll.
The Lady Vikings got off to a fast start this year without senior Elle McCord in the lineup.
McCord, who has committed to the University of Georgia, sat out the first month of the season to rest up from a grueling schedule that saw her play non-stop for nearly a year, but has returned for the stretch drive of the season.
The Lady Vikings are also getting help from several other members of lineup, including Randee Harval and Brittany Scarbrough.
Northgate lost to second-ranked McIntosh on Tuesday, but its heads into the tournament winning 12 of 13 matches.
The team’s success includes victories over Greater Atlanta Christian and Eagle’s Landing Christian, who faced each other in last year’s Class AA/A title match.
One of the reasons the gap has closed in recent years is the way volleyball is now perceived in the community. Many players are playing year round, going straight from the high school season to club teams. It shows in the level of competition.
East Coweta comes into the tournament with a 9-8 record, but the Lady Indians have played one of the toughest schedules in the state.
Led by sophomore Jessi Bartholomew and seniors Erin Gould and Lexy Zelczak, the Lady Indians have won some big matches this season including wins against Woodstock and Alpharetta. The Lady Indians biggest win was against Lovett, who is ranked fourth in the Class AA poll.
East Coweta set the tone for this season with a solid finish last year, upsetting state-ranked Woodstock and Pakview in the first two rounds of the Class AAAAA playoffs.
East Coweta heads into the tournament after losing to powerhouses Walton and Sandy Creek. Both matches went three games and could have gone in the Lady Indians’ favor.
“We are playing against some really powerful teams right now,” East Coweta head coach Dena Taylor said last week. “That is really going to make us better down the road.”
Newnan’s Fant sees the intensity in her own team as well after struggling much of last season.
“There is now a sense of urgency,” she said. “We want to win and take losing seriously.”
The Lady Cougars enter the tournament with a 7-7 record. That’s four wins more than Newnan posted last year when it went 3-22.
Newnan is paced by seniors Mimi Yancey and Ayla Brewer.
The Lady Cougars are on a two-game winning streak, beating LaGrange and Brookstone. It was against LaGrange where Fant realized her team had grown up.
After winning the first game, Newnan lost 26-24 to force a third and deciding contest where it finally pulled away 25-12.
“We knew what we had to do and we stepped up and put them away,” Fant said. “Last year, we probably would have lost that match.”
The Northgate coach knows keeping the streak going will take some work.
“I think it is going to come down to who wants it the most,” Trucks said. “Hopefully, that is going to be us.”