For two teams the chase for something new begins Wednesday night. For another, it’s a chance to return to the top.
Buford, Wesleyan and Hebron all play today in the semifinals of their respective classification’s state tournament. Buford and Hebron are each after the school’s first state title and Wesleyan seeks its first since 2009. A title would be the Wolves’ sixth overall.
“Skill-wise I am confident of where we are at,” Wesleyan head coach Ted Russell said. “It becomes a mindset, it’s more of the mental game and are we able to step up and perform at a high level.”
Unlike its previous championship teams, Wesleyan isn’t led by one standout player. It’s a balanced attack with solid players across the floor. In the regular season Lauren Frerking led the team with 273 kills, Kendra Koetter was the leader with 690 assists and Hannah Hoskins had 367 digs. And this balanced team hosts the same Lovett school which ousted Wesleyan in the Final Four a year ago on its way to the Class AA crown.
“That’s what we are counting on tomorrow,” Russell said of his team’s balance. “We will need contributions from everybody. If we are relaying on one or two, it’s going to be tough for us to win.”
Buford came a match shy of the semifinals a year ago, falling to Oconee County. The Wolves visit a St. Pius X team which needed three sets to beat them earlier in the season.
Buford is led by youth and experience with senior Maggie Roper and freshman Gabby Curry dominating at the net. Ropers’ 301 kills and 251 digs in the regular season led the team with Curry coming in just behind with 250 kills and 206 digs.
Like Wesleyan, Hebron fell in the semifinals last year to Walker, ending the school’s record-setting run. It was a young team which lost to Walker and most of its leaders returned this season. The Lions host Savannah Christian tonight in the semifinal matchup with the winner meeting the winner of Holy Innocents’-ELCA.
“We were very fortunate to be able to return every starter from last year’s team,” Hebron head coach Taylor Davis said. “We are a very veteran team from where we were last year.”
The focus all season for the Lions has been preparing for this point in the season. Davis said his team’s goal from the start was to grow mentally tougher to be able to cone out on top in close matches.
“We have raised the bar here through tough matches,” Davis said. “Win or lose, we have been able to learn a lot.”
Standout Eden Murray led the way in the regular season with 444 kills and 76 blocks and four other Lions Alli Johnson (190), Regan Long (156), Brigette Oduro (150) and Ashleigh Thomas (148) all racked up more than 100 kills. But Davis said it’s more than just his big hitters leading the way.
“We play nine girls for six spots and every single one is as critical as the next,” Davis said, noting the contribution from libero Courtney Civelli. “When we don’t have our full lineup, we really are hurting.”