Southeast Whitfield High School’s volleyball team is No. 2 in Area 7-4A right now.
Come Saturday evening, the Lady Raiders hope to celebrate being No. 1 once again.
Southeast’s quest for a third straight area tournament title starts today, and the Lady Raiders will be joined in the 7-4A field by Dalton, Northwest Whitfield and five other league teams in the double-elimination event.
First-round matches will be hosted by the higher seeds today, with the remainder of the bracket playing out Saturday in No. 1 seed Heritage-Catoosa’s gym.
Also starting today and finishing Saturday are the Area 4-3A and Area 5-2A tournaments. Coahulla Creek and North Murray join the Area 4-3A teams that will play the entire tournament at North Murray. In Area 5-2A, Murray County will play at Calhoun today, with the tournament finishing Saturday at Model High School in Rome.
The top four finishers in each tournament earn berths to their respective classification’s state tournament.
In 2011, Southeast captured its first league championship by winning the Area 7-3A title. Last season, the Lady Raiders won the Area 7-4A crown and advanced to the Class 4A semifinals, an unprecedented run for a team from Murray or Whitfield counties in the state playoffs.
In both seasons, though, Southeast (26-10) started as the No. 1 seed for the area tournament. This year the Lady Raiders are looking up at Heritage.
The Lady Generals went undefeated in seven area matches and will host eighth-seeded Pickens at 5:30 p.m., while the Lady Raiders earned a No. 2 seed with a 5-2 record against league competition. Southeast will host seventh-seeded Gilmer at 5:30 p.m.
“I honestly think because we’ve lost some games this year, it has humbled us this year,” said Lady Raiders coach Bethany Kenemer, who is in her first season leading the program after serving as an assistant in previous years. “This year, we’ve been able to take a step back and look at every game one at a time. I think the losses along the way this year have helped us.”
This season has been one of transition for Southeast, which had to replace setter Hannah Graham and outside hitter Megan Collins. Graham and Collins were The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Volleyball Player of the Year for 2011 and 2012, respectively, but were lost to graduation.
“Last year we had people in leadership positions, but this year we’ve had certain people step up and fill those roles,” Kenemer said. “I think it’s tougher just because (winning) is what they’re used to. Some of these girls have only played on area championship teams. It took a while getting used to teams not giving us anything. I think it’s something that as the season has gone on, we’ve gotten used to it.
“We’re not the underdogs anymore.”
Northwest (20-18) is seeded fourth after finishing 4-3 in league play and will host No. 5 seed Ridgeland at 5:30 p.m. The Lady Bruins reached the state playoffs last season after claiming a fourth-place finish in Area 7-4A and coach Jennifer Quinn hopes for a repeat of at least that finish in this year’s tournament.
“With the way the area has been going, any team can beat any other team,” Quinn said. “The only team that has stood their ground the whole season has been Heritage.”
Dalton (6-24) finished 3-4 in area matches and will travel to third-seeded LaFayette for a 5:30 p.m. start. The Lady Catamounts finished second in last year’s area tournament and reached the state tournament’s second round.
“When it comes to (the area tournament), you have two days you are playing, and one bad day can cost you,” Dalton coach Joey Wills said. “The middle of the pack is flexible. Northwest has been on the bubble. LaFayette has been on the bubble. Ridgeland went on a strong streak at the beginning. It’ll be a race to see who can play the best.”