CONYERS - After battling to a one-two finish in the Area 8-AAAA volleyball tournament last weekend, Heritage and Rockdale will launch their postseason quests tonight in the first round of the Class AAAA state playoffs.
Heritage (38-8), which beat Rockdale in five games to claim the area championship and the top seed in 8-AAAA, hosts North Clayton, the No. 4 seed from 4-AAAA, at 5:30 p.m.
Rockdale (30-16), the No. 2 seed from 8-AAAA, entertains Dutchtown (24-17), the No. 3 seed from 4-AAAA, at 6 p.m. in a rematch of the regular season meeting.
North Clayton at Heritage
Last year, the Lady Patriots won the 8-AAAA title and then were ousted by Dalton in the first round of the state tournament in four games.
Heritage coach David Buddenbaum said his squad learned a very valuable lesson last year.
"(We learned) that we need to have focus from the beginning of the match. The more focused we are on our game and our execution the better off we will be," Buddenbaum said. "If we focus on our execution of volleyball, I think we understand we will be successful."
Even though North Clayton is a No. 4 seed, Buddenbaum expects the Lady Eagles to offer his squad quite a challenge.
"I expect a very athletic (North Clayton) team that will give us the ball back quickly," he said. "I think they will provide a challenge in that we won't know when the ball will come back each time or from where, so we need to prepare for getting the ball back quickly.
"The keys for us will be focus, intensity and excitement about competing at home and in the state tournament."
Experience usually pays big dividends in the postseason, and Buddenaum said his senior-laden squad and their strong play down the stretch shoul provide Heritage with an added advantages.
The Lady Patriots have won 17 of their last 18 matches. Their only loss was to state-ranked Northgate.
"I believe so along with the experience of playing last year at state and having a successful season where we played all types of teams," he said. "We keep our momentum going by playing a lot of volleyball and highlighting what we have been doing well each practice and focusing on what makes us successful, which is putting pressure on teams with our serve, our defense and hitting ability. If we push other teams with our skills, I think we will continue to build on our momentum."
Dutchtown at Rockdale
Rockdale beat Dutchtown 25-14, 25-21 in the regular season meeting back on Aug. 22, but Rockdale coach Steven Sansing acknowledges that both team have improved since that early season match.
"They have gotten a lot better since the first time we played them back in August, but we have, too," he said. "They have a lot of tall, athletic players who know how to play volleyball, and Dutchtown is no stranger to the state playoffs. It should be a close match, but hopefully the experience of playing a lot of great teams this year will give us the edge."
For the Lady Bulldogs, the keys to victory will be defense against Dutchtown's hitters and effective passing on offense.
"Defense against their hitters will be key. They have a couple good outsides and a couple good middles. We have to be able to set our block and force them to hit to our defense." Sansing said. "Offensively, passing will be important. If we get the pass, our hitters should be able to put it down."
While Rockdale does not have postseason experience to bank on like Heritage, Sansing is hoping his tough regular schedule will pay some dividends.
"We've played in some hostile environments this year, we've played top competition all over the state and had intense matches against our biggest rival (Heritage)," he said. "While it's not the state playoffs, we've played big matches. Hopefully, the girls just go out there and play the confident style of volleyball that has gotten us here
"It's all in believing they can do it. Once we beat Ola a couple weeks ago, I think that was the point they realized they could play with anyone. We just have to keep our confidence high, and play with the aggressiveness that is our trademark."
Jeff Gillespie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SideBar: If you go
· What: First round of Class AAAA state volleyball
· Who: North Clayton at Heritage, 5:30 p.m.; Dutchtown at Rockdale, 6 p.m