Coach: Brian Welsch, second season
Last season: 9-30, 0-5 in Area 5-7A
Key returners: MB Avery Clark, Sr.; L Ashley Olsen, Jr.; S Brittan Ragsdale, Jr.; OH Taylor Smallwood, Sr.; MB Victoria Young, Sr.
Key newcomers: OH Emma Harding, Soph.
What to know: Last season was the Bulldogs’ year to transition – to new head coach Brian Welsch, who was hired from Brookwood, and to Area 5 in Class 7A, the state’s highest classification. It had its travails, but Welsch believes the team and program are the better for it a year later. Roles are more defined, acumen in Welsch’s system is improved and, Welsch says, motivation is stronger. Nowhere is that more evident than in the team’s defense, Welsch says. “Right now, we’re playing what I would describe as passionate and intense defense,” he says. Welsch is also implementing a more aggressive serving game. He expects the team to develop on offense over the course of the season, but Welsch feels the team is closer to reaching the state playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Coach: Missey Hall, sixth season
Last season: 31-13, 4-1 in Area 5-7A, lost in semifinals of the Class 7A state playoffs
Key returners: MB Madeleine Bertz, Sr.; DS Annie Jones, Sr.; OH/S Ally Hall, Soph.; RS/OH Amanda Sinning, Sr.
Key newcomers: OH/RS Ashley Hills, Soph.; MB Claire Richey, Jr.; S/OH Bella Tolone, Fr.
What to know: The Longhorns are coming off a breakthrough season that saw them reach the semifinals of the state playoffs for the first time in program history. Head coach Missey Hall used the words “rebuilding year” to describe this season, and that might not be an exaggeration considering Lambert lost seven seniors and sophomore Kailin Taggart, who transferred to Marist. But it also might be a bit hyperbolic considering the Longhorns return three of their four leading hitters from a year ago in William & Mary commit Madeleine Bertz (200 kills, 76 blocks), rising star Ally Hall (319 kills, 496 assists, 160 digs) and Amanda Sinning (214 kills, 64 aces). Questions remain at libero and setter, and the team identified serve receive and staying in system as its biggest areas to improve on during a summer camp at Auburn.
Coach: Drew and Kelly Cecil, second season
Last season: 35-18, 3-2 in Area 5-7A, lost in second round of the Class 7A state playoffs
Key returners: L Marin Black, Sr.; OH/MB Maddie Bryant, Sr.; DS Kala Campbell, Sr.; OH/RS Mary Ellen Enright, Jr.; S Logan Taft, Sr.
Key newcomers: MH Kate Perryman, Fr.
What to know: The Raiders haven’t had a season like this upcoming one since 2002. That was the last time North was coming off a state playoff appearance, and it couldn’t repeat the accomplishment. The Raiders have plenty of reasons to believe they won’t repeat history – 10 reasons, in fact, the number of seniors on this season’s team. North figures to have good ball control with returning starters at libero (Marin Black), defensive specialist (Kala Campbell) and setter (Logan Taft) and a capable offense with Georgia Southern commit Maddie Bryant (389 kills, 198 digs, 88 blocks) and Mary Ellen Enright (111 kills, 141 digs). Finding decisive leadership amongst 10 seniors could be an issue, second-year coaches Drew and Kelly Cecil say, but regardless they’re setting their sights on bigger things after last year’s success. “We hope to prove ourselves as a truly formidable volleyball program this season,” Drew Cecil said.
Coach: Gino Acevedo, first season
Last season: 24-12, 4-4 in Area 6-1A, lost in second round of the Class 1A state playoffs
Key returners: MH Caroline Clark, Sr.; L Vanessa Fowler, Sr.; MH Maya Green, Sr.; OH Annie Irlbeck, Jr.;
Key newcomers: S Allison Clark, Soph.; S Brooke Miller, Sr.; MH Lauren Rice, Soph.
What to know: The Paladins enjoyed a milestone season in 2016 with their first state playoff victory since joining the Georgia High School Association, but they experience something of a transition year in 2017. New head coach Gino Acevedo brings extensive international experience from his native Colombia and Canada, but he has to replace the leadership and talent of five seniors. The heart of the team will be in the middle, led by Caroline Clark (158 kills, 85 blocks last season), along with Maya Green and Lauren Rice. Vanessa Fowler (364 assists, 75 digs) is an experienced libero. The team is counting on outside hitter Annie Irlbeck (58 kills) to step up her contribution significantly after a strong summer of development. Acevedo hopes the team can gel early. “I just hope we can bring a new intensity to the floor every night,” Acevedo said.
Coach: Kelly Wren, 10th season
Last season: 34-19, 6-0 in Area 5-7A, lost in the semifinals of the Class 7A state playoffs
Key returners: OH Hannah McGlockton, Sr.; MB Avery Kline, Sr.; S Nyah Pacely, Soph.; OH Molly Bergin, Jr.; RS/OH Sydney Bibby, Sr.
Key newcomers: OH Avery Svehla, Fr.; L Sam Macaluso, Fr.
What to know: This could be considered a retooling year by South’s standards after losing five starters and seven seniors in all from last season’s team that reached the semifinals of the state playoffs for the third time in four years, including outside hitter Amanda Nugent, the two-time FCN Volleyball Player of the Year. But don’t feel bad for the War Eagles. They should have a strong offense, led by senior captains Avery Kline and Hannah McGlockton. Sophomore setter Nyah Pacely had a good summer of development. Molly Bergin returns from injury, while freshman Avery Svehla could follow in the footsteps of her older sister, Taylor, the three-time FCN Volleyball Player of the Year. Head coach Kelly Wren thinks this team just needs more time on the court together. “There’s a ton of potential,” head coach Kelly Wren said.
Coach: Jake Dickey, fifth season
Last season: 17-24, 1-4 in Area 5-7A
Key returners: MH Brooklyn Clayton, Jr.; OH Olivia Dodd, Jr.; DS Sydney Gentry, Sr.; S Rachel Hart, Sr.; L Abby Riggins, Sr.; OPP Annie Velduis, Jr.
Key newcomers: MH Abby Kingsbury, Fr.; S Olivia Mooney, Soph.; OH Kamryn Wagner, Soph.; MH Avery Westbrook, Jr.
What to know: The Wolverines are now three seasons removed from its last state playoff appearance in 2014, but they maintain aspirations of competing for an area championship and qualifying for the state playoffs because of an experienced returning core. There’s a little something returning for West in every facet – libero Abby Riggins (399 digs), setter Rachel Hart (629 assists), hitters Brooklyn Clayton (102 kills, 60 blocks) and Olivia Dodd (121 kills) and defensive specialist Sydney Gentry (115 digs). The Wolverines will surely miss senior Kylee Wagner (233 kills), who is expected to miss the season after suffering a torn ACL during club season. Still, West head coach Jake Dickey senses the team is more motivated than ever after a second-straight season out of the state playoffs. “I think the girls are definitely a little more focused this year,” he says.