Some of the best volleyball in the state will continue to be played in Cherokee County this season.
In 2019, the county saw one team come within a few points of a state title, another advance to the state semifinals and yet another advance to the quarterfinals. The county also saw one of the best players in state history graduate after a historic career, along with the emergence of a number of underclassmen with bright futures ahead of them.
Sequoyah’s 2019 team was the first in program history to win the region, county and Sequoyah Classic championships in the same season. The Lady Chiefs finished the season 41-2 — winning 93 sets while dropping only 14 — which was the best in program history in terms of winning percentage.
After falling to Allatoona in a five-set thriller in the Class AAAAAA state championship, Sequoyah should be a legitimate state title contender this season, if not the favorite. Senior outside hitter Paige Powers, a two-time all-state selection who finished her junior season with over 500 kills, should lead the way.
John Edwards, thee Cherokee Tribune Volleyball Coach of the Year, returns to a Lady Chiefs team with plenty of key pieces back.
“We should be able to play some pretty exciting volleyball,” Edwards said. “The offseason was strange for us, just like it was for everyone else, and I think every team is working on how to re-engage and get that sharpness back.”
Joining Powers will be a group of sophomores who dazzled as freshmen. Skylar Martin, Taylor Pecht and Sara Siefert were all-county selections a season ago, with Martin and Pecht adding all-state honors.
Edwards will be hoping to recapture the momentum from last year.
“Even though we do have a lot of people coming back, each team has a distinct personality,” Edwards said. “We’re trying to build on things we did last year and be aware that it is a new year. You don’t talk about (the state finals) a lot because it was last year. It’s really about finding out what in the process allowed us to be in that position. With the new region realignment, you never know.”
Sequoyah will compete in the newly aligned Region 7AAAAAA, which now includes Cambridge, Centennial, Chattahoochee and Johns Creek. Creekview and River Ridge will also be in the region.
Etowah competed in arguably the toughest region in the state last year and advanced to the state semifinals while finishing the season 35-14. A few big changes will be coming for the Lady Eagles this year as they will need to replace outside hitter Savannah Bray — last year’s Gatorade Georgia Volleyball Player of the Year — and will also welcome a new head coach.
Bryan Jones will take over, bringing an impressive resume which includes 522 victories, three consecutive state titles (2009-2011), six trips to the state semifinals, four trips to the state finals, six Cobb County titles and eight area championships while head coach at Pope.
Jones should have some excellent players at his disposal with all-county selections Sydney Bray, Lia Keene and Olivia Tafoya set to return. Sydney Bray should shine as a sophomore as earning honorable mention all-state honors last year.
River Ridge was the third county team to advance to the state playoffs last season, seeing its season end in the state quarterfinals. The Lady Knights finished the season with a record of 30-17 and will return senior captain Gabbi Phillips, who is on pace to break the school record for assists.
Cherokee and Woodstock finished in the bottom half of Region 4AAAAAAA last year, and the newly aligned Region 5AAAAAAA will be no easier with the additions of Alpharetta and Milton. Alpharetta will make the jump into the region from Class AAAAAA where it finished in the state semifinals last year.
Despite a 1-4 region record last season, Cherokee finished its year with a record of 20-12. The Lady Warriors should be led by all-county outside hitter Faith Breitbart.
Woodstock ended 2019 with a record of 13-24 and should be led this season by senior outside hitters Neva Clark and Brooke Loan.
Creekview finished 14-24 in 2019 and saw a number of younger players gain valuable experience. The Lady Grizzlies should be led this season by junior libero Sophia Del Valle and junior setter Elle Johnson.