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Heritage volleyball to battle former champ for final four spot

The Heritage volleyball team should feel good about what it has accomplished to this point. The Lady Patriots have won 40 games, nine coming on a current winning streak, and advanced to the Class AAAA elite eight for the first time since 2005. But to advance to the final four, Heritage, the No.7 seed, will have to get past defending state champion Sandy Creek, the No. 2 seed, in today's noon match at Marist. So much for being rewarded for a job well done.

"They're tough, defending state champions, so they're good," Heritage coach David Buddenbaum said of Sandy Creek. "(They have) most of their players back from last year (and are) a very solid hitting team; very strong defensively. That will definitely challenge us to play our best volleyball."

Buddenbaum thinks an early September loss to Ola allowed the seeding committee to hand the Lady Mustangs a No. 6 seed and a first-round match with host and last year's runner-up, Marist.

"I was thinking we were going to get between (a) six and seven, and it depended on how much they counted our loss to Ola," Buddenbaum said. "I'm assuming that Ola beating Jonesboro a couple times down the stretch and beating us earlier in the year, the committee thought it was justification for a six seed."

Whatever the seed, Buddenbaum said his team is in for a battle with Sandy Creek.

The Lady Patriots from Fayette County are on the verge of their third 50-win season in the last four years and boast a stable of strong hitters, including Chanelle Walker and Kalah Jones. But Heritage showed in its second-round sweep of Lakeside-DeKalb that Taylor Bailey and Mikayla Charles, when right, are as good as any hitters in the state.

The key for Buddenbaum's crew is the passing game, anchored by dual setters Rachel Jubran and Mikala Flonnoy.

"I think it all starts with our passing game, getting the ball to (Bailey and Charles) first," Buddenbaum said. "Mikayla, when she's on serving, she's a force for us; when we're passing the ball off setter, Taylor and Mikayla are very effective."

The goal for the Lady Patriots, like each of the eight teams left in Class AAAA, is to reach the title match Oct. 31 at Marietta High School. Yet the season has already been a success.

"Volleyball is like any other sport. When you get down to the final eight teams, you've accomplished something. They should be very proud," Buddenbaum said. "I think we're playing very cohesively right now, I don't see a lot of issues. We're serving very well, passing very well, (and) I think those are three things (that) are key for us: working together, serving and playing defense with our passing game. I think every one of them has the desire to continue on to the final four in the afternoon. They all still have that goal ... they don't want to stop."

Kurt Aschermann Jr. can be reached at kurt.aschermann@rockdalecitizen.com.