They were volleyball quarterfinalists last year, Eagle's Landing Christian and Jonesboro. Despite similar results as they closed the season and head into the state tournament this week, there's a difference in their levels of confidence.
ELCA, ranked third in Class A and winner of 15 of its last 16 matches, may be playing the best it has ever played.
Unranked Jonesboro, winner of 13 of its last 15 matches with the only losses coming to powerhouse Union Grove, still doesn't know what to expect in Class AAAA. It took that kind of run to put the Cardinals — once 12-14 — at 25-16 for the season.
Ready or not, however, the tournament begins — Wednesday for Jonesboro and Thursday for ELCA. The Georgia High School Association tries to split the first round over two days so that there will be enough referees for everybody, since two per game are employed in the state tournament, rather than the usual one in the regular season.
Jonesboro plays host to Houston County on Wednesday at 6 p.m.
"Usually, going into the first round and possibly the second round, I feel pretty confident," Jonesboro coach Dan Maehlman said. "Even if we're playing the top-tier teams, I think we have the chance to upset them. But I don't know what we're going to get. Sometimes, we play really well and sometimes we don't — and that can happen in the same game. We can play that first game really well and then be kind of Jekyll and Hyde."
For ELCA, which takes on Hart County on Thursday, it's all Jekyll — and for those familiar with the works of Robert Louis Stevenson — that means it's all good. The Chargers are part of a threesome atop the Class A rankings that has separated themselves from the rest of the pack.
"My team is playing better than it has played all year," ELCA coach Jim Barlow said. "We are playing our best defense ever. Mara Green is playing the best I've ever seen her play."
That was evident in the Area 5-A championship victory against Our Lady of Mercy on Saturday, when the Chargers romped in the first, third and fourth sets for a 25-9, 22-25, 25-5, 25-6 victory. Green and Rachael Tolleson each had 20 kills, Marissa Randolph added seven kills and Kodie Patterson had 38 assists.
There isn't much difference between ELCA, top-ranked Blessed Trinity and second-ranked Greater Atlanta Christian. The Chargers have beaten Blessed Trinity, which has beaten GAC, which has beaten ELCA.
"There's no telling who has the upper hand," Barlow said. "But our chemistry is better than ever. We've got the best player in the state in Green. When she gets going, if we pass the ball and set her well, she's unstoppable at the high school level."