Many anticipated a Class AAAAAA state final rematch between top-ranked Walton and No. 2 Harrison at the beginning of the season and the two teams will meet again tonight for a 7:30 p.m. start at McEachern High School.
“It will be an emotional game for us both,” Harrison coach Clay Taylor said. “We don’t like losing to each other.”
This year’s matchup will be missing a few key athletes that played major roles last year.
Former Walton standout Kelly Murphy is now playing volleyball at Michigan and her teammate Katherine Plessy is playing sand volleyball at Florida State where she is now teammates with Alexis Ryan, Harrison’s leading hitter last season. Former Harrison middle hitter Tyra Montour, who had 10 kills, two blocks and four block assists in last year’s championship, is now playing volleyball at Gardner-Webb.
Both teams are a little younger this season and have proved to be just as strong.
When it comes to the front row, Walton (33-7) has both depth and different players stepping up every match. The Lady Raiders can rely on outside hitter Jessica Sloan, who led with 10 kills in Walton’s straight set win over North Cobb in Wednesday’s semifinal, as well as Brooke Patterson and Lindsay Seagraves. Anouska Best and Leah Jackson are projected to anchor the middle.
The only major change for Walton this season is setter Tori Ferguson switching to libero this season after splitting setting duties with freshman Celeste Fitzgerald, who is now starting fulltime.
Ferguson is one of Walton’s more aggressive servers, having won 13 service points against North Cobb. She can mix it up and is capable of putting offenses out of rhythm.
“Tori had a great night serving (against North Cobb),” Walton coach Suzanne Fitzgerald said. “She’s turned into a leader on back row for us.”
For Harrison (49-6), sophomore outside hitter Caroline Ostman is healthy after missing three weeks with an ankle injury and has taken over as the primary hitter for the Lady Hoyas. Fellow sophomore Kodi Smith has also asserted herself on the outside with juniors Taylor Haskins and Andie Karmel coming into their own at middle hitter.
While Harrison appears to be healthier, Walton may be without its leading hitter Chloe Cook, who injured her ankle prior to the area tournament and hasn’t played since.
For the Lady Hoyas to avenge last year’s loss, they will likely want to start better than they did in their four-set win over Johns Creek in Wednesday’s semifinals, even though the first set doesn’t make or break a best-of-five set match. Johns Creek won the first set, Harrison survived a close second set to even the match before the Lady Hoyas found their game in the third and fourth.
“There will be mistakes, and I don’t think the first set is as crucial as everyone thinks,” Taylor said. “We do have five sets to play with. We do want to get out fast but there’s going to be emotion before we settle down.”
If Harrison is to dictate the match early, the Lady Hoyas will have to depend on senior leadership from Georgia Southern-bound setter Kelly Scott and libero Catherine Gallagher.
Walton, on the other hand, is focusing on better offensive production and passing. Even though the Lady Raiders defeated North Cobb in straight sets in the other semifinal, Suzanne Fitzgerald said after the win that her team’s passing wasn’t as fluent as it was in its quarterfinal win over Chattahoochee and it would be addressed.