Greater Atlanta Christian players Rachel Waldrop (17) and Ali Cox (11) reach to defend against a shot made by Mill Creek"s Ashley Isaac during the Gwinnett County volleyball finals.
Postseason play is never supposed to be easy, but it seems like the brackets the Georgia High School Association draws up each year makes life particularly difficult for given teams in each sport season.
Looking at this year’s brackets, Gwinnett County’s remaining participants in the state volleyball tournament may have a right to feel that way as the second round of the tournament gets under way today.
“I told our players that we’re playing a tough team, but at this point, (every team) is 0-0,” said North Gwinnett head coach Vanessa Henry, whose team plays host to North Cobb tonight at 6.
North may be a textbook example of just how tough the second-round matchups will be for many of the local teams.
The Bulldogs (47-8) carry one of the area’s top state rankings at No. 4 in Class AAAAA, but will face a particularly tough opponent in the form of the Warriors (46-9), runners up from Area 5-AAAAA and ranked No. 2 in the state.
But the way Henry looks at the situation, North will have to beat a team of North Cobb’s caliber at some point to get to its ultimate goal of winning a state championship.
So she is stressing to the Bulldogs the value of playing the hand they’ve been dealt and is depending on leaders like seniors Alex Panks and Anna Mullins and juniors Kristina Stinson, Miller Howard and MaTia Hughes to set an example for the rest of the team.
“North Cobb is a very tough team. It’s going to be a battle,” Henry said. “As long as (the GHSA) feels like the playing field is level, it’s OK. I’m more concerned with how our girls are playing right now. And we’ll be playing at home, so that will help.
“It’s just time to play hard and the team that makes the fewest mistakes will win. We just have to make sure we’re serving the ball in and hitting it in.”
As tough a hurdle as North appears to have in the second round, Mill Creek may have an even tougher one when the eighth-ranked Hawks (35-14) travel to Harrison tonight at 6.
The top-ranked Hoyas (42-4) defeated North Cobb to win Area 5-AAAAA, and Mill Creek coach Brian Williamson knows exactly what his team is up against, and will need a similar effort from the one he got from the likes of Kim Brody and Ashley Isaac in the Hawks’ first-round win over Northview last Thursday.
“We now have to go to their place, so we won’t have our fans — which we had a great fan base tonight,” Williamson said shortly after last week’s win. “It’ll be interesting to see how we react. We’re going to work really hard … because they (Harrison) are solid.”
None of Gwinnett’s other remaining Class AAAAA teams will have an easy road ahead either, with ninth-ranked Brookwood hosting Etowah, Parkview traveling to East Coweta and Mountain View playing at No. 3 Walton.
Likewise, the county’s contingent in the Class AA/A tournament will have its work cut out for it today.
The toughest tasks may belong to No. 7 Wesleyan and Providence Christian, who both have to hit the road to state on highly ranked opponents.
The Wolves have the longest trip by traveling to Savannah to take on eighth-ranked Savannah Country Day at 5:30 p.m., while Providence will bus to Athens to meet No. 6 Athens Academy at 6 p.m.
While Wesleyan coach Ted Russell agrees his team faces a difficult second-round match, he also believes the number of quality teams in Class AA/A this season means a different bracket may not have made matters any easier.
“(Class AA/A) has gotten to be a beast of a classification,” said Russell, who will look to seniors Callie Bivings and Alana Broe to lead a young Wolves team against a more veteran Savannah Country Day squad. “AAAAA can go about five or six teams deep that can win it. AA/A is even deeper. In my mind, GAC is probably the favorite, but there are a number of teams that can win it all.
“(Savannah Country Day) has eight seniors, so anytime you’ve got a team loaded with seniors that have their backs to the wall and are facing their last hurrah (in high school), you know it’s a motivated team.”
And the rest of Gwinnett’s remaining smaller schools — Providence, No. 2 GAC, which hosts ninth-ranked Our Lady of Mercy, Buford, which travels to No. 3 Eagle’s Landing Christian and Hebron Christian, which plays at Jefferson — will be facing similarly motivated opponents.