Jonesboro senior Kendall Thomas, left, and junior Alana Wester will be counted on as the Cardinals look to repeat as county champions on Saturday. (Staff Photo: Derrick Mahone)
JONESBORO — For the last 13 years, Jonesboro has owned the county volleyball tournament.
Although there have been challengers of late, the Cardinals have continued to be the top program on the volleyball court.
Jonesboro, the 13-time county champion, will get to defend its title today when the Cardinals host the county tournament.
“There is a lot of pressure to keep the legacy going,” Jonesboro senior Kendall Thomas said. “We are definitely working hard to uphold our championship.”
Jonesboro opens the tournament today with an 8 a.m. match against Riverdale, who lost to the Cardinals in last year’s championship match.
For the first time, it will be a 10-team tournament, which will include Elite Scholars.
This season, Jonesboro is expected to be challenged by Mount Zion. The Bulldogs defeated Jonesboro earlier this season.
“We have been looking forward to this tournament,” Mount Zion senior Ashante Finnie said. “It is going to be a big challenge.”
Since the beginning of the season, Jonesboro players say they have gotten stronger. Last weekend, Jonesboro rebounded from a pair of first-round losses to capture the silver bracket in the 30-team Harley Davidson Spikefest in Conyers.
During the two-day tournament, Jonesboro lost a rematch with Woodland and to Harris County, a Class AAAAA team.
The Cardinals then defeated Heritage-Conyers, Lakeside-DeKalb and South Effingham to win their bracket championship.
Now the attention turns to the one-day county meet.
Jonesboro coach Dan Maehlman acknowledge that the Cardinals are not a shoo-in to win the tournament.
“I would have to pick Mount Zion as far as talent,” Maehlman said. “To me, everyone is pretty equal in the tournament. If you are not ready to play, you will get beat. You can’t look past any team.”
Maehlman said one reason for the rise in volleyball on the county level is because of the middle school programs and more players are starting to play year-round on a club team.
“We have a lot more girls interested in volleyball,” Maehlman said. “More girls have become interested in volleyball. I really think this tournament is wide open.”
And Mount Zion could be the top challenger. The Bulldogs play in one of the toughest area’s in the state, which consist of Whitewater, Northgate and McIntosh.
Bulldogs coach Earl Simmonds say playing against that top competition should benefit his team.
“We have had a lot of on the job training the last couple of years,” Simmonds said. “We have been able to double our output on the team. We are working on the finer details of the game. We have not been discouraged about our losses. We have had the opportunity to play against some of the best teams in the state.”
While his players have said they feel pressure, Maehlman said the pressure is more on the other county teams.
“The way I look at it, the pressure is not on us,” he said. “It is on the other teams because they want to win it so bad. Everybody wants to beat us.”