Photo by Brian Paglia / Woodland volleyball coach Gerri Wright (far left) and sophomores Savannah Caudle (7) and Bria Rivers (6) celebrate after defeating No. 8-ranked Jonesboro at home Tuesday in an Area 4-AAAA match.
The regular season came to a close Tuesday.
Now the matches really count.
That’s the reality of volleyball area tournaments, where only the top four — or five if you’re in 4-AAAAA — teams make the state tournament that begins next week.
Here’s a look at what to expect from local teams during the area playoffs:
Favorite: East Coweta. You won’t find the Lady Indians in the top 10, but they’ve held their own with a tough non-area schedule. So though they hit a 5-game skid here toward the end of the regular season, the Lady Indians separated themselves.
Contender(s): Newnan. The Lady Jaguars made their move during a 10-match winning streak through September. They only dropped one of 21 games during that stretch. And they’d love to get another shot at East Coweta after a 25-18, 25-11 loss just before that winning streak.
Sleeper: Luella, Westlake. Both should qualify for the state tournament. But can they do more than just qualify? Westlake won the head-to-head match during the regular season, but Luella played East Coweta and Newnan more competitively.
When, where: Thursday, at Ola High School. Continues on Saturday, at Whitewater High School.
Favorite: McIntosh, Whitewater. Call them favorite 1A and 1B. The Lady Chiefs (40-3) are ranked No. 2 in Class AAAAA, right behind the Lady Wildcats (42-2). Whitewater got round one in the regular season in a 19-25, 25-19, 28-26 win. If the teams meet again in the area finals, expect it to be a good one.
Contenders: Northgate, Starr’s Mill, Ola, Union Grove. So stacked is this area with top teams that the Georgia High School Association added an extra qualifying spot for the state tournament. Even with a fifth playoff spot, one of these teams will be left out. Expect it to come from the Ola-Starr’s Mill-Union Grove group. Each finished 6-4 in the area during the regular season.
Sleeper: Mount Zion. If everything goes right, an improving Lady Bulldogs team could spoil someone’s playoff parade. At 23-22, this is the best Mount Zion volleyball has been in some time.
When, where: Thursday and Saturday at Woodland High School.
Favorite: Woodland. There’s the 33-3 regular season record, the 28-straight victories to start the season and poised senior leadership from Pam Konken and Nicole Findura. The Lady Wolfpack aren’t ranked No. 5 in Class AAAA for no reason. Though it’s looked beatable of late, Woodland earned the role of tournament favorite.
Contender(s): Jonesboro, Locust Grove. The Lady Cardinals were a lesson in progress this regular season. After losing several key players to graduation, Jonesboro enters the area tournament on a 13-match winning streak and ranked 10th. Locust Grove dropped out of the rankings after an inconsistent second half of the regular season but has all the ingredients to get hot and make a run.
Sleeper(s): Dutchtown, Riverdale. The Lady Bulldogs and Lady Raiders figure to battle for the final playoff spot. Dutchtown showed improvement after a rough start to the season. Riverdale, meanwhile, made a huge leap in the win-loss column and had competitive matches against Jonesboro, Locust Grove and Woodland.
Favorite: Henry County. The Lady Hawks may not have the regular season record of an area tournament favorite (7-15), but they went through the area schedule without much drama. They should find themselves in the finals.
Contender(s): Jackson. The Lady Red Devils gave Henry County its toughest area match in the regular season finale in a 15-25, 25-27 loss. That was Jackson’s only area loss. It filled the rest of its schedule with top-notch opponents that should have the Lady Red Devils prepared for the area tournament.
Sleeper: Maynard Jackson. The only teams in the area Lady Jaguars couldn’t beat were Henry County and Jackson, and both matches were competitive, especially a three-game loss to Henry County. Maynard Jackson went 18-8 during the regular season, so it confidence should be high.
When, where: Continues on Thursday at Eagle’s Landing Christian.
Favorite: Landmark Christian. The Lady War Eagles come in winners of eight straight matches and boasting the No. 2 ranking in Class A. They also went undefeated during area play with convincing wins against their toughest competition.
Contenders: Eagle’s Landing Christian, Our Lady of Mercy. ELCA has the top-10 ranking — the Lady Chargers are No. 7 — and the title of defending state champion. But Our Lady of Mercy won the regular season match in three games. Both are capable of giving Landmark all it can handle in the finals.
Sleeper: Strong Rock Christian. The Lady Patriots went a quiet 23-11 during the regular season but couldn’t break through with a marquee win against ELCA, Landmark of Our Lady.