'Four'-ward march for defending GISA champ Trinity
by Chris Goltermann
A first state championship for any athletic program can be special. The second is as much of a statement, and a third consecutive title … well, that's what begins to separate winning from dominance in a particular sport.
It's exactly where Trinity Christian's volleyball program sits today as the Lady Lions begin the 2014 season in Montgomery, Ala., at the annual Capital City Classic held at Faulkner University.
As the threet ime defending GISA champions begin their quest for potential title No. 4, there's no reason to believe the Lady Lions can't continue their current dynasty. The roster is loaded with a dozen experienced varsity players, all but one experiencing last year's perfect finish in Class AAA.
But as Trinity looks to defend its championship once again, the team's biggest challenge may come in another word that begins with the letter 'C.' That is, 'complacency.' As head coach Joe Camp understands, staying on top is as difficult as getting there.
'That's harder than getting to the top,' Camp said. 'Anybody can tell you that.'
Last year's lineup, in many ways, had to fight to stay there despite finishing with a 28-0 record while led by two senior All-State standouts in Alex Huber and Jordan Jones, both of which moved on to the college programs at Kennesaw State and Faulkner.
Between several first-year varsity players having to step into the lineup as well as overcoming injuries that included one to senior Natalie Sisler just prior to the state finals against Augusta Prep, last year's team had to earn the right to stay atop the mountain.
Camp doesn't expect chemistry to be an issue this fall as the GISA shrinks to one classification of 21 schools divided into four regions.
Three seniors, five juniors and two sophomores, including All-State and All-County hitter Cheyenne Hayes following a team-leading campaign in kills (273), should again put Trinity just ahead of a mix of seven returning quarterfinalists from Class AAA last year.
Camp lost Jones, his starting setter, to graduation, but has Hayes and Regan Lohlein capable of stepping in. It's been enough for the Trinity coach to reach back into his days as an assistant at McIntosh to start the year with a 6-2 offense, which will keep both athletes on the floor in setting roles.
'I'm not sold on it yet. I may change my mind,' Camp said. 'I've used it when I've had two setters that were really equal in talent, or when you have one who also hits well like Cheyenne. We know she can hit, so that part I have in my back pocket.'
One reason Camp is trying the 6-2 system is to have players experience positions they will most likely play in college.
'Part of what we've been able to do is create a stepping stone for the next level,' said Camp, who coaches for the A5-South club program in Tyrone where Trinity will hold practices this year. 'In four years, we've had seven out of 10 (seniors) go on to [college] and that means a lot to me. If they're going to go on where they hope to play, they're going to have to learn how to set.'
Kelsey Richards is Trinity's top returning defensive specialist after finishing behind Huber with 200 digs. The depth at the position increased further over the summer upon the arrival of junior transfer Katie Jones from East Coweta.
Trinity's returning players include Hannah Simonton (70 digs), Ashley Caldwell (92 kills, 50 aces), Mandy Price (145 digs), Chasey Mitchell (111 kills), Peyton Lohlein (37 digs, 26 aces) and Francie Hutcheson (125 assists), all of whom played between 19 and 89 games last season.
'From a team bonding standpoint, I think we're way ahead of the game,' Camp said. 'There's a lot of experience, and that's a great thing. Katie fits in well. But the concern is, for me, is hey we don't want to be complacent.'
Trinity should see its share of challengers in GISA play, with a fastrising Heritage School program also returning two All-State and three All-Region performers. The two programs from Coweta join Griffin Christian and Oak Mountain Academy out of Carrollton among just four schools from Region 3.
Defending finalists Augusta Prep is among two programs from Region 4 that reached the Class AAA semifinals in a division that also includes a third Elite 8 program in Young Americans out of Conyers.
Maybe the biggest change in the schedule, however, and one that could equally keep Trinity focused on maintaining its dominance is an agreement between the GISA and the Georgia High School Association to allow crossover play in volleyball this season. Camp added matches against Sandy Creek, McIntosh and Landmark Christian. The Lady Lions will also get a chance to play in Sandy Creek's play date on Sept. 20 against a group of schools including Whitewater, Troup and Holy Innocents.
Trinity will also host Sandy Creek on Sept. 25 in a head-to-head match.
'I think that's one of the things that gives me hope that we won't fall into that pattern of going through the motions,' Camp said. 'We've always had teams that were capable of beating us.'