Teams were allowed to play matches as early as Aug. 5, but with that date being the same as the start of school, tryouts were still under way in some cases.
With their rosters now set, Cherokee, Creekview, Etowah, River Ridge, Sequoyah and Woodstock will all take the court this weekend for the Sequoyah Classic. The event could go a long way toward setting the tone for the upcoming season.
River Ridge might be in the best position to make a playoff run.
Under the direction of coach Jeff Kirk, the Lady Knights made their first appearance in the state playoffs after going a perfect 9-0 in Area 6AAAA in 2012. After reaching the third round of the Class AAAA playoffs, they return almost all of their players from that season, including Jess Mlaska.
A middle hitter, Mlaska was the program’s lone representative on the all-county team last season. With nearly 200 kills and 75 blocks on the season, she was a force at the net and should only be better entering her senior year.
Other returning members of the team include sophomore Sophie O’Hare, junior Abby Skinner and senior Molly Herring.
Only one other team in the county advanced as far into the playoffs as River Ridge, and that was Woodstock.
The Lady Wolverines claimed the county title, placed second in their area and went as far as the third round of the Class AAAAAA state playoffs in amassing a program-best 35-15 record.
But they will be without a few players who were instrumental in that run.
Cherokee Tribune Volleyball Player of the Year Grace Townsend graduated, as did Paige Trammel and three other starters in Sara Graf, Abbey Booz and Cassady Thompson. Woodstock, however, returns Riley McBay, who was an all-county second-team member.
Anita Dodd, who is entering her third year at Woodstock, said it is all about putting players on the court who work well together.
Sequoyah, Etowah and Creekview also qualified for the playoffs a year ago, but all three exited in the first round.
Sequoyah will be battling alongside Creekview in Area 7AAAAA, but they will have a tough schedule with Kell, Pope and Sprayberry.
The Lady Chiefs, coached by John Edwards, are one of the few programs in the county that appear to be in better shape this season than last. They lost just three players from last season’s team, but only one of them played significant time, with the others suffering injuries early in 2012.
“With most of the team from last year coming back, we are looking to build on the state tournament appearance and see what we can do this year,” Edwards said. “The girls have put in some good work this past spring and summer, either in our gym or with other teams. We have a tight-knit team that cares about each other, and they are excited to try and improve each day.”
Sequoyah returns a pair of all-county players in junior setter Logan Page and sophomore outside hitter Kali Jones. Also returning are sophomore middle hitters Kelley and Lauren Hartman, junior libero Kayla Morris, junior rightside hitter Lane Lauletta, junior outside hitter Kate Mann and senior defensive specialist Emily Ryan.
The Lady Chiefs also have some additions in junior outside hitter Kyli Schmitt and senior defensive specialist Jensyn Wells, who spent most of last season on the junior varsity team.
Creekview is a bit of a question mark. The Lady Grizzlies graduated some solid players, including Julia Dayoub, but should be able to grow on the depth they had in 2012.
Etowah coach Kim Robertson is ready for another strong season, despite losing five players to graduation. Among the losses were all-area setter Chelsea Brady, who is now at Reinhardt, and Victoria Pregibon, who will be playing at Shorter.
The Lady Eagles will be led by all-county outside hitter Jenna Lea. The senior, who is also a three-year starter, recorded 368 kills last season.
Lea will be joined by middle hitter Taylor Kimber, an all-area player, and libero Allie Elson. Junior Kylie Blanton will also return as a middle hitter, while sophomores Natalie Lucco and Paige Horton are also expected to contribute.
Etowah also has a handful of newcomers, including three seniors — setter Meagan McClain, middle hitter Kerri Riordan and defensive specialist Keke Johnson.
“Our outlook for the season is strong as we should compete in the county and area competition and vie for another state berth,” Robertson said.
Cherokee, which also missed out on the state playoffs, is also expecting to see improvement.
“We have a lot of players returning this season who already have the experience of playing at the varsity level,” Cherokee coach Kristen Davis said. “These players know the expectations. They know how the team is run and they are good examples for the new players.”
Among the returners are seniors Stephanie Gillenwater (outside hitter), Stacia Dangerfield (defensive specialist), Amber Butler (defensive specialist), Beth White (defensive specialist) and Kimberly Densmore (rightside hitter), and juniors Ari Jewell (middle hitter) and Haley Rutledge (outside hitter).
Cherokee also added some firepower with freshman Emily Pope and junior Sephra Rak. Mac Hulse will join the team as a setter, while senior Kelsie Bradford and junior Meredith Thacker should also contribute.
“We are hoping to finish better in the area than we did last year, as well as do better in the county tournament,” Davis said. “Our overall goal is the same for every year — qualify for state. I tell the girls each season that they have to set and achieve the small goals to reach the big one. Each year, they get better, and the team expects no different this season.”