CONYERS - The Rockdale volleyball team ended up one game short of its goal this fall.
The Lady Bulldogs finished the season at 23-21 after falling to Loganville in the Area 8-AAAA Tournament, just one victory away from their second straight trip to the Class AAAA state tournament.
Rockdale finished third in Area 8-AAAA South with a 3-2 mark behind Heritage and Loganville.
"I felt overall we were an improved team over last year. We ran a more consistent and balanced offense. Our defense was better and we won more long rallies," Rockdale coach Stephen Sansing said. "We played a challenging schedule and to finish up with a winning record speaks highly of our team. We didn't come up big at the right times, though, and it caused us to have uninspired losses vs. Heritage and Loganville during the regular season.
"We lacked that one fiery personality that might lift a team out of the doldrums, and that held us back at the end of the season. Coming up one win shy of the state playoffs was tough on the whole team, because we really expected to be there. The great thing about that is the expectations have been set, now we have to meet them. We plan on it next year."
The Lady Bulldogs will lose four players to graduation - Jasmine Lewis, Aniya Strong, Jalisa Thornton and Maleeka Verser. All four were three-year starters for Rockdale.
Lewis recorded a team-high 236 kills this season, while Strong was second with 168.
However, the Lady Bulldogs will still have plenty of talent returning next year. Sophomore Chelsea Nunn will return and is a two-year starter at setter. Kelsey Girardot, a sophomore, started at right-side hitter this year. Taylor Mitchell, a junior, and Brianna Dennis, a sophomore, both rotated at middle hitter this season.
Junior Jasmin Miller and sophomore Brandie Jenkins were the top two backups at outside hitter this year and will be expected to step up into starting roles next season.
"We will be a little younger than we were this year, but I think the potential is there to continue getting as we have each I've been here," Sansing said. "The varsity girls will be familiar with the system, so the experience they all got this year will greatly benefit them next year.
"Our ninth grade team was county champions for the second year in a row, so those girls are excited and ready to push for varsity spots, and some of them have great chances to get there. Our JV team was more competitive this year than it has ever been, and I expect, as all the girls push each other, the quality of the players in the whole program will keep going up."
In the offseason, Sansing wants his players to work on their games by playing club ball.
"I've really been encouraging all of them to play club ball, because the best thing for them is to play, play, play," he said. "That extra practice time will be so beneficial to them, basically like another year of school ball. Other than that, we just have to get stronger and quicker on the court."