A look at Southern Crescent teams and their first-round opponents in the upcoming volleyball state tournament that begins Thursday and Saturday (playoff seeding in parentheses):
By Brian Paglia
Union Grove (3)
Opponent: Chattahoochee (32-14)
When: Thursday, at Chattahoochee in Johns Creek.
What to know: The Lady Wolverines didn't get a favorable draw in the first round. Chattahoochee is ranked eighth in the Gasports.com Class AAAAA Coaches Poll and the Lady Cougars played in one of the state's most competitive areas. Two other teams from the Lady Cougars' area (No. 4 Northview, No. 9 Milton) are ranked.
First round: Winder-Barrow (23-13)
When: Thursday, at Ola.
What to know: The Lady Mustangs cruised through the season onto the Area 4-AAAA regular season and tournament championship, on the way setting a record for wins in a season. It would seem Ola has all the pieces in place for a long run, with strong, tall hitters (senior Anna Nichenko, junior Lauren Stojanowski, sophomore Jenna Austin) and solid setters (juniors Kayla Hanekamp and Kira Graziani, sophomore Brooke Vaughn).
When: Thursday, at Jonesboro.
Opponent: Habersham Central (28-9)
What to know: In the past five seasons, Jonesboro has averaged 36 wins but only made it past the first round once (2006). Last time the Lady Cardinals did advance? In 2006, when they had (you guessed it) 43 wins.
First round: Rockdale County (30-16)
When: Thursday, at Rockdale County in Conyers.
What to know: When these two teams met at the beginning of the season, Rockdale County won easily in two games. Since then, both teams have been enigmatic, making for a compelling match-up. Dutchtown relies on senior outside hitter Nikia McBurrows and junior outside hitter Taylor Gregory.
North Clayton (4)
First round: Heritage-Conyers (38-8)
When: Thursday, at Heritage in Conyers.
What to know: The Lady Eagles made a miraculous run through the Area 4-AAAA tournament to steal the last playoff spot, which was expected to come down to Alcovy and Forest Park. Their prize? A meeting with the No. 8 team in the state in Class AAAA with the Lady Patriots, which has won 17 of its last 18 matches.
Opponent: Eastside (19-25)
When: Saturday, 11 a.m., at Woodland.
What to know: The Lady Wolfpack have made the playoffs in each of its three years of existence. They've seen the first round (2007). They've seen the second round (2008). Now, Woodland's core of juniors (Hillary Konken, Patrisha Lyons, Kelly Kratovil) expect to take the next step and advance to the third round. They're in good position to accomplish that with Woodland's highest seed in school history.
Locust Grove (3)
Opponent: Hart County (18-21)
When: Saturday, at Hart County in Hartwell.
What to know: The Lady Wildcats find themselves in the playoffs in the program's first season after a surprising run through the Area 4-AAA tournament, upsetting Mary Persons to guarantee a berth. Locust Grove is led by All-Area setter Kristin Robinson (first team) and middle hitter Aimee Champagne (second team).
Eagle's Landing (4)
Opponent: Oconee County (32-12)
When: Saturday, at Oconee County in Watkinsville.
What to know: Eagle's Landing defeated Locust Grove in each of their matches in the regular season and in the opening round of the Area 4-AAA tournament. But a loss to the Lady Wildcats later in the area tournament gave the Lady Golden Eagles a fourth seed and a meeting with the fourth-ranked team in the state in Class AAA.
Eagle's Landing Christian (1)
Opponent: Atlanta International (17-9)
When: Saturday, at ELCA.
What to know: A third seed in 2007. A second seed in 2008. The Lady Chargers took the next step this season, winning the Area 3-AA/A title and climbing all the way to No. 4 in the state. ELCA is led by sophomore Mara Green and juniors Lauren Teknipp and Rachel Loudermilk.
Henry County (4)
Opponent: Wesleyan (29-17)
When: Saturday, at Wesleyan in Norcross.
What to know: The Lady Warhawks face a Wesleyan program with a far different history than its own. The Lady Wolves won four straight state titles from 2004-2007, averaging 48 wins a season during that span.