Photo by Brian Paglia / Eagle’s Landing Christian first-year volleyball coach Katrina Hegeman is tasked with leading the Lady Chargers after the program’s first-ever state championship.
It comes with the territory of defending state champions that a 1-7 start to the following season might raise some concerns. But the Eagle’s Landing Christian volleyball team knew what it was getting into this season.
The Lady Chargers knew they lost five seniors from the program’s first ever state championship team, including go-to hitter Mara Green, who signed with Florida State. They knew they had a new coach, new talent and a brutal schedule.
But as ELCA goes into the Top Ten play day tournament today at the Suwanee Sports Academy, the Lady Chargers still believe their season is far from over.
“Our team will get better as the season goes on,” first-year ELCA coach Katrina Hegeman said.
That wasn’t the case last season. ELCA didn’t need an entire regular season to become a state title contender. The Lady Chargers had talent and experience and got off to a 6-2 start after eight matches.
This ELCA team is getting some of the toughest on-the-job training possible. All seven of the Lady Chargers’ losses have come against ranked opponents, including three preseason No. 1-ranked teams (Lovett in AA, St. Pius X in AAA and Sandy Creek in AAAA). ELCA’s only win came against an East Coweta team that is 8-5 and coming off a quarterfinals appearance last season.
“We are a young team, so I think right now we’re playing a very tough schedule,” Hegeman said. “I think coming in we knew we were going to have to really out-play another team to get a victory.”
But Hegeman said she’s been pleased with her team’s effort and it shows in scores.
ELCA went up 1-0 against Lovett, but lost the next two, including a close 25-19 final game.
The Lady Chargers’ last four matches have been competitive losses to Sandy Creek, Marist (No. 2 in AAAA), Westminster (No. 3 in AA) and Starr’s Mill (No. 6 in AAAAA).
Aside from a blow-out loss to Harrison (No. 2 in AAAAAA), the Lady Chargers have been losing games by an average of 7.5 points.
“A lot of character of these girls comes out when we’re not winning,” Hegeman said. “What was really neat to see was the girls push just as hard when they’re 10 points down as they do when they’re 10 points ahead. You don’t always see that in a young team.”
Much of what ails ELCA is characteristic of a young team. Hegeman said the Lady Chargers have struggled in their serve receive, especially without Adria King, the team’s only senior, who is out for the next two weeks with a shoulder injury.
And Hegeman said ELCA is still trying to develop its offense after the loss of Green.
“Most of the teams we’re playing have that go-to player,” Hegeman said. “We’re trying to create an offense that’s diverse where we have more than one player contribute.”
Hegeman said she likes what she’s seen from junior middle hitter Marissa Randolph.
“She’s probably been our most consistent offensive player,” Hegeman said. “Very aggressive blocking and hitting. She’s really stepped up.”
The competition doesn’t step down for ELCA this weekend with matches against Savannah Christian (No. 10 in A), Holy Innocents (No. 2 in A) and Greater Atlanta Christian (No. 2 in AA).
Yes, that GAC. The one ELCA defeated last season in the AA/A title match.
“I think the girls are pumped about that one,” Hegeman said.
No matter the outcome, it will serve as yet another opportunity for ELCA to grow into a contender, something the Lady Chargers still believe they can be in a new-look Class A.
“We think we still have a chance this year to win a state championship,” Hegeman said. “We’re playing a tough schedule, but we’re still aiming really high. ... It won’t come easy, but we still have that goal in sight.”