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Heading to state
Lady Patriots rely on depth in run to tournament berth

CONYERS - Heritage volleyball coach David Buddenbaum can trace the transformation of his squad this season to a single decision.

At the Greenbrier play date on Sept. 20, Buddenbaum decided to tap into his team's depth by using 10 players in each match. That move has paid big dividends for the Lady Patriots.

"I think as long as they know they are going to get playing time, they're OK with it," Buddenbaum said. "There are certain times where certain girls don't play as much as others, and they're not happy about it, and I'm glad they're not. I want them to want to be on the floor. But they also realize that certain times and certain situations call for different things.

"The nice thing about this team is they're all pretty versatile; pretty much they can all play about every position within reason. The last 25 matches or so is when I really started playing 10 players. I don't know if it's a coincidence or not, but since then we're 22-5."

Before the change, the Lady Patriots were 9-14. Now, they're 31-9 and headed to the Class AAAA state tournament. On Saturday, Heritage claimed the Area 8-AAAA championship by topping Monroe Area in a grueling five-game match in which depth was definitely a factor.

The Lady Patriots' depth will be tested in the Class AAAA state tournament, which opens today at Sandy Creek High School in Tyrone. Heritage faces Dalton at 3 p.m. in the first round of the single-elimination event.

"We have a very difficult schedule. We played all year against very tough opponents," Buddenbaum said. "We've played every Saturday for last six weeks. For the most part, they've been tough and competitive. We've learned how to finish out games."

The interesting thing about the Heritage 10 is they're all juniors.

Outside hitter Olivia Wasdin is the team's most versatile player. According to Buddenbaum, she could play anywhere on the court. She leads the team in service points (266), digs (104) and service reception (589). Wasdin also has the team's top service percentage (93).

Outside hitters Taylor Bailey and Mikayla Charles provide the power in the Heritage attack. Bailey leads the team in kills (330) and blocks (90) and is second in aces (69). Charles is second on the team in kills (282).

Setters Rachel Jubran and Mikala Flonnoy run the Lady Patriots' attack. Jubran leads the team in assists (519), is second in service points (229) and is third in aces (65). Flonnoy is second in assists (507) and third in aces (65).

Middle hitter Arabi Umrani is second in blocks (30) and third in kills (137).

Outside hitter Jenny Chapman leads the team in aces (70) and is second in service reception (285).

Right side hitters Kacie Bradley and Erica Perry give the Lady Patriots other options in their attack.

Libero Hillary Norman is the defensive specialist with 56 aces.

"I think they've grown up a lot this year, and they've been fun to watch," Buddenbaum said. "It's definitely a positive to have 10 girls that can play. Early in the year, it was negative, trying to figure out how to get them all playing time. It's a luxury to know that I can pretty much move the girls around anywhere I need to play them, and they can all do it. It's also a positive that they're so competitive."

There's also one more thing that's readily apparent when Heritage is playing - the Lady Patriots have a deep camaraderie.

"I haven't had to nurture their camaraderie at all. For most part, eight of the 10 girls have played on the same team since the eighth grade when we started our club team," Buddenbaum said. "This group likes each other, they enjoy playing with each other."