By Brian Paglia
Both the Clayton and Henry county volleyball tournaments begin this weekend with defending champs that have held onto their title for several seasons.
Jonesboro's dominance in Clayton County has been indisputable for nearly a decade. Ola has won the past two Henry County tournaments.
But threats to their reign await. Both teams enter their respective county tournaments as serious contenders, but perhaps not the favorite.
A look at each county tournament:
When/Where: Saturday, Drew High School
Contenders: On Tuesday, Forest Park and Jonesboro played a thrilling five-game match in each team's Area 4N-AAAA finale. The Lady Panthers won, ending a 12-game losing streak to the Lady Cardinals.
The game figures to be a preview of the county tournament finals. Both teams have the county's best hitters -- Forest Park seniors Keyonna Allen and Nikki Wilson and Jonesboro seniors Kayla Dowdell and Jennifer Evans. Forest Park (22-2, 5-0) might have a slight advantage in depth with the transfer of former Jonesboro setter Kierra Dennis.
Darkhorse: While Forest Park and Jonesboro play in the weaker side of Area 4-AAAA, Lovejoy (11-14) has toiled against strong Henry County team in Area 4S-AAAA. The Lady Wildcats won't be rattled by tough matches.
When/Where: Today and Saturday, Luella High School
Contenders: If Ola (28-11, 6-0 Area 4S-AAAA) wants a third-straight county championship, it may have to go through Eagle's Landing Christian.
The Lady Chargers (24-9, 8-0 Area 3-AA/A) are ranked third in the state in Class AA/A and have Michigan commitment Lauren Teknipp and junior Mara Green, two of the top hitters in the state. Few teams can compare with ELCA's strong schedule that included 12 matches against ranked opponents.
But Ola is seasoned. The Lady Mustangs' "Big Four" of seniors Andrea Quintanilla, Kira Graziani, Lauren Stojanowski and Kayla Hanekamp faced ELCA in last year's finals. They won't be intimidated.
Darkhorses: Both Union Grove (33-10, 5-1 Area 4S-AAAA) and Woodland (18-9, 4-2) could have a strong weekend and challenge ELCA and Ola for the county championship. The Lady Wolverines might have a deeper collection of hitters than Woodland in seniors Ashton Adams, Deborah Versulien and Kasey Wilson. They've already won a tournament in Decatur earlier this season.