CONYERS - Even with a youth movement, the Heritage volleyball team continued its tradition of strong play this fall.
Eight sophomores in the lineup were not a problem for the Lady Patriots as they posted a 29-14 overall record and won the Area 8-AAAA South title with a perfect 5-0 record.
Heritage stumbled in the Area 8-AAAA Tournament, falling one game short of claiming their fourth state tournament berth in five seasons.
"We had a fun team to be a part of. The girls enjoyed playing with each other and, as a result, I think we had some success," Heritage coach David Buddenbaum said. "Overall, we were not happy with our final results as we felt we were one of the top four teams in our area. But I think each returning player will use that as motivation during the offseason."
The Lady Patriots will have two key losses to graduation - libero Olivia Patrick and outside hitter Tori Pierce.
Pierce led the team in kills with 208, while Patrick paced the team in digs with 293.
"Tori and Olivia will be hard to replace," Buddenbaum said. "Both are four-year varsity members who brought a lot of passion for the game. In addition, their volleyball skills were very good."
But, with 10 players returning off this year's roster next season, Heritage will be one of the favorites in the area again.
Taylor Bailey, who led the team in blocks with 86 and was second in kills with 177, will be back along with Olivia Wasdin, who ranked second in blocks (52), third in kills (132) and fourth in aces (70).
The Lady Patriots will also return Melissa Drish, Rachel Jubran, Taylor Maloney and Mikayla Charles. Jubran led the team in assists with 322, while Maloney and Drish registered a team-high 76 aces. Charles was third on the team in blocks and fifth in kills.
"Pretty much everyone that is coming back will be important. We have 10 returning players next year and each of them will to improve in the offseason to make sure we are able to play to the level they expect," Buddenbaum said. "If the girls work in the offseason like they are telling me they will, I think we will be better next season. It will be hard to replace our seniors, but I think the girls coming up will do a good job of increasing their skills to a comparable level."
Buddenbaum is stressing a simple formula for his players as they prepare for next season.
"They need to play volleyball, get strong in the weight room, play more volleyball, get faster on the track and play more volleyball," he said.
Jeff Gillespie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org