By Brian Paglia
They advanced through the state volleyball tournament in different ways, though with similar expectations. Three teams from Henry County -- Dutchtown, Eagle's Landing Christian and Ola -- made it to the Elite Eight in their respective classifications, which took place this past Saturday, but each lost.
By press time Monday, they had two days worth of reflection, time to take inventory of their disappointing performances Saturday, but also of their overall impressive seasons.
Here's a quick wrap-up of each team's run to the Elite Eight and a look back at their season:
Final record: 26-18
How they got there: Defeated Rockdale County, 3-0, in first round; defeated Lakeside-Evans, 3-0, in second round; Lost to Whitewater, 0-3, in Elite Eight.
Final thought: Lady Bulldogs coach Angela Williams understood the monumental task before her team at the Elite Eight. Their opponent, Whitewater, was ranked No. 1 in the state in Class AAAA, and eventually advanced to the state finals.
"To beat them was definitely a big, big task," Williams said.
Dutchtown had overcome a lot during the course of the season to reach that stage. Inconsistency plagued the Lady Bulldogs early in the season, and a hand injury to their libero required shuffling the lineup.
But Dutchtown endured, reaching the Elite Eight for first time since 2006, when the Lady Bulldogs advanced to the Final Four before losing to Marist.
"I have to say I am extremely proud of the girls just for making it that far," Williams said. "It was an amazing season. Started off a little rocky, but ended on great terms."
The Lady Bulldogs lose just four seniors, two starters, including captain and outside hitter Nikia McBurrows. But Williams said junior Taylor Gregory should be able to fill McBurrows' role.
"I think she'll be able to fill those big shoes," Williams said.
Eagle's Landing Christian
Final record: 42-13, No. 5 in Class AA/A Gasports.com Coaches' Poll
How they got there: Defeated Atlanta International, 3-0, in first round; defeated Walker, 3-1, in second round; Lost to Greater Atlanta Christian, 1-3, in Elite Eight.
Final thought: Lady Chargers coach Jim Barlow considered his team one of three with a legitimate shot at a state title. Losing in the program's third Elite Eight in school history to sixth-ranked Greater Atlanta Christian felt like falling short of expectations.
"Even if we lost in the semifinals, I think (this season) would've felt significantly better," Barlow said. "We went up against one of those teams where it felt like a 50-50 proposition."
But Barlow also said there was much to celebrate about this season. Like the program's first area championship. Or the high level of competition the ELCA faced in an arduous schedule.
Plus, the future looks bright. ELCA loses just two seniors from this team, returning nearly every key piece, including middle hitter Mara Green and outside hitter Lauren Teknipp.
"We would expect to be in this same position for at least the next two years," Barlow said. "It's hard to tell, but I feel good about our program."
Final record: 47-5
How they got there: Defeated Winder-Barrow, 3-1, in first round; defeated Chamblee, 3-0, in second round; Lost to Marist, 0-3, in Elite Eight.
Final thought: No team won more matches this season than Ola, which set a school record for wins in a season, made its first Elite Eight appearance and won its first area championship in school history. Impressive, considering Ola opened in 2006.
That might seem like tough accomplishments to follow, but the Lady Mustangs lose just two seniors in back-row setter Victoria Meisinger and middle hitter Anna Nichenko.
With the return next season of juniors Lauren Stojanowski, Andrea Quintanilla and Kayla Hanekamp, sophomore Jenna Austin and four others, Ola should again be favorites in Region 4-AAAA and a threat in the postseason.