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Wolves face tough bracket

High school brackets don't cater to current state rankings or past successes, even for the four-time defending state champion Wesleyan volleyball team.

That's why the Wolves, who have won every Class AA/A state title since 2004, find themselves in a difficult spot for the state tournament, which begins today and Saturday at sites around metro Atlanta.

Wesleyan, host of its own quarter of the bracket on Saturday, will be favored heavily in its first two matches. But then comes a likely matchup with another private school in dark green uniforms, and one with even more volleyball tradition than the Wolves.

Westminster, which dropped down from AAA for this season, has won seven all-time state championships in volleyball, including four in a row from 2002 to 2005. The Wildcats are ranked No. 1 in AA/A, just one spot ahead of Wesleyan.

The winner of that showdown moves into the state semifinals.

"If your ultimate goal is to make the Final Four, you're probably upset (with the bracket)," Wesleyan head coach Ted Russell said. "But if your ultimate goal is the state championship, you've got to beat everybody at some point. If we both get through our first two opponents, it makes for a very exciting sectional final."

It also will be a rematch of a Sept. 6 matchup, won in two games by Westminster 25-22, 25-18. It was a rare loss for a Wesleyan team that is 45-7 and hasn't lost to a Georgia team since that match.

The Wolves have racked up some impressive victories along the way, taking first place in the Gwinnett County tournament, beating two-time defending Tennessee champion Brentwood Academy twice and beating Woodward (the only Georgia team to defeat 35-2 Westminster).

Wesleyan also won the season series with Marist, the No. 1 team in Class AAAA.

"We've been finding a way to win close matches, which is going to be very important in the playoffs," Russell said.

His team wasn't at full strength for the first meeting with Westminster, as it was still working star Anne Marie Armstrong into the full rotation after a summer of basketball. The 6-foot-3 phenom, a University of Georgia basketball commitment, is the Wolves' record holder for career aces, career kills and season kills.

She is the headliner of a potent lineup that features other top contributors like Maggie Smith, Grace Leah Baughn, Anna Keappler, Haley Collins and Brittany Price.

Wesleyan is one of four local teams in the AA/A bracket, including ninth-ranked Greater Atlanta Christian, which opens the tourney Saturday at noon vs. Henry County. Buford and Providence also qualified in AA/A.

Eight Gwinnett teams made the AAAAA tournament but that number will be cut in half by the second round, with four head-to-head Gwinnett matchups in the opening round.

Eighth-ranked Norcross plays Central Gwinnett on Saturday, while No. 10 Parkview takes on Collins Hill the same day. The other AAAAA teams open the tournament today with Dacula playing North Gwinnett and Mill Creek taking on Grayson.

SideBar: STATE VOLLEYBALL

Today's matches

Class AAAAA

At Chattahoochee

3 p.m. - Mill Creek vs. Grayson

At Northview

1 p.m. - Dacula vs. North Gwinnett

Class AA/A

At Holy Innocents'

1 p.m. - Buford vs. Landmark Christian