The Calhoun Lady Jackets went to the state playoffs for the first time last season.
If it’s all the same to both teams in 2012, they’d like get back to the postseason, however, this year, it will be taking a different route. Sonoraville moved up to Class AAA this season and will be in Area 4-AAA for volleyball, and while the Jackets remained in Class AA, they will be in a new area as well (5-AA).
Nathan Smith returns for his fifth year at the helm for the Lady Phoenix, and Randy Rice will be in charge of Calhoun for his third year.
Here’s a little info on the teams and what to expect this season:
Sonoraville Lady Phoenix
Coming off four straight playoff appearances, Smith and Sonoraville have built a pretty winning tradition quickly.
But Sonoraville doesn’t want to just make the playoffs in 2012, they want to advance further than they ever have before.
Smith said this might just be the team to do it.
“We’ve had some success over the last few years, but we’re still building an even stronger program,” said Smith. “I’m comfortable saying that this is the best team I’ve had here. They’ve worked harder than any group I’ve ever had, and they’ve gone beyond what I’ve asked them to do in order to get better.”
The Lady Phoenix lost Calhoun Times co-Player of the Year Kailey Vaughn to graduation, but return her sister Kristi (the other co-Player of the Year) as well as experienced starters Jennilee Gentry, Nikki Eitutis and Carrie Cheeks.
Juniors Bre Horner, junior Samantha Young, sophomore Haley Ponder and freshman Savannah Wilbanks will also be big contributors.
“(Having this much experience back allows us to fine tune our offense and defense rather than having to go back to the basics,” said Smith. “The level of play has been raised, our offense is more complex and our defense is more solid. Even the younger players are rising to the challenge and elevating their game.
“Some of the girls still need to figure out their role because I’m asking more of them than I did last season and trying to play to everyone’s strengths.”
Smith said that his expectations for this team are about as high as he’s ever had.
“We would like to win an area title, and I think we’ll be up there in the mix for that,” said Smith. “We want to advance and go deeper in the playoffs, and you never know, we could get that chance at a state title.”
The Lady Phoenix opened play on Monday and will be back in action this weekend at the Spikefest Tournament at North Murray.
Calhoun Lady Jackets
The Lady Jackets made the state playoffs for the first time last season and should be primed for another run to the postseason this year.
Coach Randy Rice said he’s liked the work his team has done in the preseason.
“We’ve been working several weeks to get ready, and we also had a good camp over the summer,” said Rice. “The girls are just trying to find themselves on the court right now, but we’ve got a lot of talented players.”
After losing four seniors from last year’s playoff team, Calhoun returns Taylor and Molly Palmer, who both stand over six-feet tall, and they will be counted on tremendously in order to bring the Lady Jackets their second postseason berth. Other key players will be Bailey Edwards and Amber Parker.
Rice said the No. 1 priority is to build a strong program that keeps going to the playoffs.
“That’s our main goal is to win and represent the school and region in the state playoffs,” said Rice. “Our program is building steadily and that starts with our strong middle school program.”
The Lady Jackets will not have to deal with the three teams that finished ahead of them in the region last season as Sonoraville, North Murray and Gordon Lee have all moved to new areas. With those moves, Calhoun should be one of, if not the team to beat, in Area 5-AA.
“I think we should finish toward the top of the region,” said Rice. “We are continuing to get better. I feel like we’re going to be strong at the net and with our serves. If we can get our back row in line, we should be able to compete with a lot of teams.”
The Lady Jackets opened up the season on Tuesday at Ringgold and will play in a tournament at Rockmart starting Friday.