Local teams inched closer to becoming better programs this season as three of the four teams -- Cass, Woodland and Adairsville -- improved their overall records from a year ago. Furthermore, the Lady Colonels, Lady Wildcats and Cartersville each reached double digits in victories.
Even with such improvement, only one team saw its way to the Georgia High School Association state tournament. For the second year in a row, the Lady Purple Hurricanes (17-19) washed down a county title with a playoff berth after finishing second behind Allatoona in the Area 6-AAA tournament. In Camille Spradley's first season as head coach, Cartersville shook off a slow start -- which it also did in 2010 -- just in time to make a run at state. The Lady Canes won two matches in a row on four occasions and put together separate three- and four-match winning streaks as well.
With the graduation of two all-county selections -- player of the year Samantha Conley and libero Megan Patton -- Cartersville needed some key play from some of its veterans, which it got as the Lady Canes place two players on The Daily Tribune News All-County Volleyball Team for 2011 -- Janezka Cruz and Jessica Boss.
While Cruz played but did not start as a junior, Boss helped lead Cartersville to an Elite Eight appearance during her junior campaign, which also ended with an all-county selection. One of three key returners, Boss, an all-area tournament selection, stepped to the forefront even more as the Lady Canes made it to the first round of the state tournament before losing to Ringgold. Sixty-nine percent of Boss's serves earned points, including 28 percent in service aces.
Though the play of Boss, an outside hitter, may have been somewhat expected considering her previous season, Cruz's emergence likely propelled Cartersville to its return playoff trip. After showing flashes of good things to come as a junior, Cruz put it all together with increased playing time as a senior. The 5-foot-10 outside hitter had 62 percent of her serves earn points, including 32 percent in service aces. Cruz, who also made the all-area tournament team, displayed a propensity to take over games, including in an early-season match with Cass where she registered close to 10 aces to help avenge a previous loss to the Lady Colonels.
Speaking of Cass, it was the Lady Colonels who actually showed the greatest leap. As the Lady Canes slipped a bit from their 18-win mark last season, Cass was plus-11 as far as wins go. The Lady Colonels went from a 6-19 team to one that began that season with a flurry, including the aforementioned upset of Cartersville, and ended the year with a 17-16 record. Boasting perhaps the most athletic pair of hitters in OH Silken Solomon and right-side hitter Amber Bowen, Cass began the season 8-2 coming off the heels of a seven-match winning streak. It also went on separate winning streaks of three and four matches.
Solomon, a senior, sparked the Lady Colonels with a team-high 157 kills. First-year coach Jamie Horton, a former assistant, said Solomon could hit the ball as hard as anyone on the team, which the two-sport athlete proved in her ability to put away points.
On the opposite side of Solomon was Bowen, whose 137 kills trailed only Solomon, her volleyball and basketball teammate. The 5-foot-9 Bowen, a junior, did not play tentatively and exhibited great aggression for someone who had not played the sport the year before.
Joining Solomon and Bowen on the all-county team is Maggie Buffington, whose passes produced more than a few kills from the two dynamite hitters. Buffington, a setter, scored high marks in her senior season as she led Cass with 230 assists. She did more than that, though, going all out throughout the season like during a back-and-forth rally that forced Buffington to make a save far from the court near the wall at the county tournament. That sort of hustle illustrated the team the Lady Colonels became in 2011.
Not many local teams got off to the kind of start or experienced the level of improvement Cass did, but few probably dealt with injury woes to the extent Woodland had to. The Lady Wildcats lost both their outside hitter and middle hitter a few days apart to begin the volleyball season. As a result, Woodland would not realize the same level of improvement in its won-lost record as that of the cross-county rival Lady Colonels, but finished 14-25 a year after going 8-25. The Lady Wildcats even triumphed over Cass in the county tournament when they got their outside hitter back.
As his team worked through its setbacks, second-year coach David Condon praised the play of Johannah Nunez, calling her his team's best defensive player. Unluckily for Nunez, however, the 5-foot-6 team captain assumed the role of outside hitter to help the ravaged team. Condon said Nunez had never played the position, but he had no concerns. He said Nunez was the kind of player Woodland could rely on no matter what position she played. The all-county tournament team selection demonstrated that, too, leading the Lady Wildcats in pass percentage (82.7), digs (132) and kills (91). Nunez, who makes her first appearance on The Daily Tribune News All-County Volleyball Team, also added eight blocks and 56 aces.
Despite not having any players make this year's all-county team, the Lady Tigers' step forward this season was a welcome sight for many. After suffering through a winless 2010, Adairsville wasted no time grabbing its first win in a season-opening tri-match where it exited with a 2-0 record. The Lady Tigers added four more wins and finished 6-17 in coach Jessica Rivers' second season. Year 3 could see even greater strides for Adairsville, especially if all its promising young players return for another go-round.
ADAIRSVILLE -- Stephanie Kuhrt, Zina Chatman, Stormy Tomblin, Amber Litteral; CARTERSVILLE -- Stefanie Will, Katie O'Connor, Mallory Walker, Melissa Bartlett; CASS -- Jordan Harrington, Brooklyn Whitener; WOODLAND -- Noelle Wallace, Courtney Evans, Ana Steiger, Bradley Sabin.