CONYERS - With 10 players returning from last season, Rockdale volleyball coach Stephen Sansing believes his squad will be in the hunt for the Area 8-AAAA championship this fall.
The Lady Bulldogs have six starters back from last year's team, which posted a 22-18 record.
Setter Chelsea Nunn and right-side hitter Kelsey Girardot return for their senior campaigns, along with junior libero Taylor Burdette. All three players were honored on the All-Area 8-AAAA volleyball team last year. In fact, Nunn and Girardot are two-time All-Area 8-AAAA performers.
The other returning players are senior Brianna Dennis, senior Brandie Jenkins, junior Lauren Aikens, junior Katie Bryant, sophomore Libby Bradford, junior Maya Van Meter and junior Reanna Ray.
Sansing is also looking for good things from two transfers - senior Janess O'Kane and junior Elizabeth Fox.
"We will continue to be strong at the net, both offensively and defensively," Sansing said. "We have four hitters (Aikens, Girardot, Dennis and O'Kane) that can kill the ball and two setters (Nunn and Bradford) that can get it to them. Our blocking has been much better this summer, and, even when we're not touching the ball, we are altering the game plan of the other team, and that plays into our hands.
"Our defense should also be a strength. Our back row players have worked really hard to improve and it has really shown these last few weeks. Katie and Taylor won't allow a ball to hit the floor, and Kelsey's defense has really improved as well."
Once again, the Lady Bulldogs have set some lofty goals.
"Our goal every year is to win our subregion, advance in the area tournament and make the state playoffs," Sansing said. "Last year, we started 7-1 in the region, then hit some roadblocks at the end of the season. This year, as long as we stay healthy, we'll be battling for first place with Heritage and Habersham Central."
The key losses off last year's squad were Tayla Mitchell (the team leader in kills and blocks), Jasmin Miller and Jakarrea Mustaf.
Sansing was pleased with Rockdale's fifth-place finish out of 25 teams in a preseason tournament two weeks ago at Harrison High School in Marietta. The Lady Bulldogs won their first seven matches in the tournament.
Still, he knows there's room for improvement.
"We still have to get better at service reception, and we've been working on some things to make the communication easier and more efficient," he said. "My main concern is seeing how we handle adversity this season. When we're rolling good, we're almost unstoppable. However, if there's a mistake here or there, sometimes we let that affect how we approach the next play. If we can learn to shake off the mistakes, they're going to happen, we'll be a much more consistent team."
Rockdale is finishing up play today in the season-opening Sequoyah Classic. The Lady Bulldogs return to action Thursday at home against Alcovy and Apalachee.
Jeff Gillespie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SideBar: At A Glance
· Team: Rockdale volleyball
· Coach: Stephen Sansing (sixth season)
· Last year's record: 22-18
· Next match: Today in Sequoyah Classic