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Clayton teams preparing for volleyball season

Teams gearing up with plenty of optimism

With a senior-laden group, Drew coach Tammie Collins says the Titans have the potential to have a breakout season. (Staff Photo: Derrick Mahone)

With a senior-laden group, Drew coach Tammie Collins says the Titans have the potential to have a breakout season. (Staff Photo: Derrick Mahone)

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Senior Lakiah Sims will be counted on to provide leadership for the Titans this season. She is also a standout on the school’s basketball team. (Staff Photo: Derrick Mahone)

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After taking last season off, Dan Maehlman is back as the Cardinals volleyball coach. (Staff Photo: Derrick Mahone)

Fall means more than just football.

OK, we know that’s hard to believe, but the new volleyball season starts in about a week.

To prepare for the upcoming season, sports editor Derrick Mahone takes a look at the teams in the county as they get ready for the season.

Several schools are in a rebuilding year, while others are preparing to continue their winning ways on the court.

Here is a look at how the season is shaping up for Clayton County teams:

DREW: Coach Tammie Collins returns a veteran group, including five seniors, in the lineup.

With that much experience returning, she is hopeful that this will be a breakout season for the group, which has been together since their freshmen season. Drew plays in one of the top volleyball areas in the state, which includes defending Class AAAAA champion Whitewater. The Fayette County school has won two titles in the last four seasons.

“I’ve coached most of these girls since the seventh grade, and they know what I expect,” Collins said. “They know what their strengths are, and we will play to those.”

Returning this season for the Titans are Lakiah Sims, Brianca Green, Briannah Ivy, Kadijah Browning and Kapri Young, who are all seniors.

“Our leadership has been great,” Collins said.

The coach said that Green and Sims are two of the team’s more vocal leaders.

“They bring a positive mindset with them to the team,” Collins said. “They are respectful and supportive of their teammates.”

Young and Ivy are the defensive specialists while Green handles the setter role. With a year’s experience under their belt in the area, Collins said she expects the team to be more comfortable against the stiff competition.

“Our players realize the skill set of the other teams,” Collins said. “This team has matured, and they have worked real hard in the offseason. We expect to win more games this year. We realize how hard we will have to work.”

JONESBORO: After a year’s hiatus, Dan Maehlman is back as the coach.

In his absence, the Cardinals still continued their dominance in the county and reached the state playoffs.

Jonesboro was runner-up to Woodland last season in the area tournament.

Returning for the Cardinals will be rising senior Kendall Thomas, rising junior Michaelle Smith and emerging sophomore-to-be Victoria Sutton.

This is the big three Maehlman wants to build this year’s team around. Maehlman said he likes to utilize a 5-1 offensive set when he has a good setter and athletic girls who can “hit pretty well.” He’ll trot the girls out in a 6-2 when he feels comfortable with multiple setters.

LOVEJOY: The Wildcats will be looking for another appearance in the state playoffs with the return of four starters.

Coach John Holladay is expecting Amber Courtland and Chelona Holmes to be among the leaders for his squad.

“We want to make another push at the playoffs,” Holladay said. “We have added some youth to the team with some players from our JV squad.”

MORROW: Patrice Nesbitt-Perry will be beginning her second season at the helm. She said consistency is what the program is looking for as she hopes to build a respectable program.

“I think having a coach for the second straight year will help,” Nesbitt-Perry said. “We feel good about the season.”

MOUNT ZION: The Bulldogs return all their starters from a team that finished 24-23 last season. Mount Zion finished 4-7 in the area’s top region, which produced state champion Whitewater.

With nine seniors returning, coach Earl Simmonds is hoping his squad can move into the top half of the area.

“We’ve been together as a team for the last four years,” Simmonds said. “We have gone through some growing pains, but I believe we can be competitive in this region. These girls are hungry and more focused because of the competition in this region.”

MUNDY’S MILL: Vickie Mangram moves over from North Clayton to head the Tigers program.

With a mixture of experienced and young players, Mangram says she has the opportunity to mold the team like she wants.

“We are very excited about the team,” she said. “We have some promising players and the girls seem to be excited and ready to grow. They want to be better.”

The leadership will come from seniors Jordan Stuckley and Ciara Carter. Mangram is also high on sophomores Kayla Hines and Sydney Waters.

While those players offer the most experience on the team, the coach is looking forward to the addition of freshmen Joy Ohuoha and Alexus Celestrin.

“We seem to have a good group to build around,” Mangram said.

NORTH CLAYTON: After nine years at the helm of the Mundy’s Mill Middle School program, Kimberly Sapp will take over the Eagles job. She had a successful run at the middle school level, which produced two trips to the county middle school finals.

The team only returns one senior, and the coach anticipates a building season.

“We have to rebuild the program,” she said. “Right now, I’m still learning their names. From what I’ve seen, they look good. We have the pieces, we just need to put them together. We want to be competitive and successful.”

RIVERDALE: New coach Mirandi Colbert inherits a group that returns 11 players, including four seniors. Last season, Riverdale finished 22-9, and lost to area champion Woodland in the area tournament.

Colbert will be counting on Tain Cameron, Judea Lovett and Morgan Muchori to help the Raiders challenge for a playoff position this season.