RIVERDALE — The headliners of Tuesday’s pivotal Area 4-AAAA tri-match are obvious and menacing. Jonesboro arrives undefeated and ranked No. 8 in the latest PrepCountry.com Coaches Poll. Host Woodland is also undefeated, but ranked second.
But lost in the anticipation for their meeting is Riverdale. Yes, the Lady Raiders will be there, too, and bringing a 10-1 record with them after defeating Washington on Thursday, 25-3, 25-4, 25-9, in a best-of-five match.
Not known for its volleyball success, Riverdale’s strong start means Tuesday’s tri-match at Woodland could be a preview of what to expect come area tournament time.
“I think we’re pretty good,” Riverdale second-year coach Brandy Jones said. “I think we have a good chance of placing in the top 3 in our area.”
It was a different story last season. Jones said the team struggled to develop any meaningful chemistry, and it showed, as the Lady Raiders went 7-15.
But Jones lauded her team’s willingness to accept coaching. The strong start has helped.
“They’re definitely more cohesive,” Jones said. “I think this year they’re more focused on the common goal. And winning has boosted them even further. They can see what the benefits are of working together.”
Jones said senior outside hitter Erica Burnham, junior setter Judea Lovett and sophomore Phallon Morris have led Riverdale to a surprising start and a chance to make a big statement on Tuesday.
Jones said her only concern entering Tuesday’s tri-match is how consistent her team’s defense can be against strong offensive opponents. Playing a weak Washington team gave Jones a chance to see the Lady Raiders progress but didn’t challenge them defensively.
But her players are more than ready.
“That’s all they have been talking about,” Jones said. “Apparently they’ve been on social networks talking trash. They’re excited. They’re ready.”
There’s a bit of math going on in Area 4-AAAAA that’s not working in the favor of Southern Crescent teams.
The area has five teams featured in the Class AAAAA Coaches’ Poll.
But that only includes one of the six teams from the Southern Crescent in the area.
Ola (15-3, 4-1 at press time) moved into the latest PrepCountry.com poll at No. 10. Yet, the Lady Mustangs are still staring up at No. 1 Whitewater, No. 2 McIntosh, No. 5 Northgate and No. 7 Starr’s Mill.
That’s a group that includes a Class AAAA runner-up (Whitewater), semifinalist (McIntosh) and quarterfinalist (Starr’s Mill). Northgate lost in the first round.
Don’t forget Union Grove, which was 15-5 overall and 4-1 in the area at press time.
All of which suggests two really good volleyball teams won’t make the state tournament this season.