No. 1 Wolves among county's six volleyball state qualifiers

Six teams from Gwinnett County earned a place in Saturday's state volleyball sectionals, including the defending Class A/AA champion Wesleyan Wolves.

Ranked No. 1 headed into this season's state tournament, the Wolves remain the team to beat.

Amazingly, Wesleyan's depth is improved over last season when it lost a mere six matches. The Wolves are 41-9 this year, but played an even tougher schedule that featured a early October trip to Florida and have dealt with an ever-changing lineup.

"We played very few matches this season with the entire team healthy or available," head coach Ted Russell said. "We've had to learn to be flexible and (consequently) we're better at making adjustments."

The Wolves, who open at home with Prince Avenue in a Saturday sectional, still have some mainstays.

Sophomore Betsy Smith leads the team with 386 kills (not far shy of the school's single season record) and a .350 hitting percentage. Nicole Fenner, the 2004 Player of the Year, is 18 kills away from 1,000 for her career. Junior Caiti Troyer has 1,008 assists (seven off her own school mark set last season) and 265 digs. Senior Paige Cain, who missed last year's state championship match with back problems, has a team-high 65 aces and 42 blocks.

The Wolves also brought up another phenomenal freshman this year. Anne Marie Armstrong came up to varsity halfway through the season and is making her presence felt, much like Smith did in 2004.

Despite the depth and the excellent success against the best teams in the state - Wesleyan has wins against the current No. 1s in all the other classifications to its credit - Russell isn't taking anything for granted.

"This is a really tough draw," he said. "Obviously anyone left playing is pretty good. We can't take Prince Avenue lightly."

Also in Wesleyan's sectional is second-ranked Landmark Christian and its super senior outside hitter Ashley Mead.

"Having Landmark in our sectional is a tough draw," Russell said. "But I think we're really solid."

The other county team to make the Class AA/A sectionals is Greater Atlanta Christian, which Wesleyan defeated to claim the Area 7-AA/A title. The up-and-coming Spartans, ranked No. 4 in the state, are making their second consecutive sectional appearance. GAC opens with fifth-ranked Athens Academy at the Lakeview Academy sectional.

On the Class AAAAA side, No. 4 Collins Hill is hosting a sectional that includes Area 4-AAAAA champion Central Gwinnett. Collins Hill, which won its area title, plays Riverdale while the seventh-ranked Black Knights take on Glynn Academy.

No. 8 Dacula and No. 10 Parkview are at North Gwinnett. Dacula, which made the sectionals last season before getting eliminated by eventual champion Starr's Mill, plays Morrow and Parkview meets Camden County.

All matches start at 10 a.m. Saturday.