With a year of new region alignments and new competition, two Cobb County teams — Mount Paran Christian and Walton — are hoping to repeat as state champions.
After winning the Class A Private state championship last fall, Mount Paran has since stepped up for a move into Class AA.
“Any time you win a state championship, the next season, it can be really easy to feel like we don’t need to keep getting better,” coach Selina Chancy said. “That’s what we’ve talked about all summer, is having the mentality that was last year and this year. No one cares what we did last year. We have to be better each week.”
Chancy said she has a general idea what her lineup will look like, but it is still open to whoever earns the spot each week. Chancy also said to watch out for junior outside hitter Sarah Schwartz, who is expected to be a game-changing player, especially after the graduation of kills leader Kara Dunn, a two-sport star who is preparing to play basketball at Georgia Tech.
Moving into a new classification also comes with its own challenges.
“It’s going to be interesting because we’ve never played most of the teams in (Class) AA,” Chancy said, “so we’re just going to go into it with the mindset that we need to be competitive and bring our best.”
Mount Paran was not the only county team that moved into Class AA, as it will be joined by county rivals North Cobb Christian and Walker. Both teams made the state playoffs a year ago, with North Cobb Christian advancing to the state quarterfinals.
Walton, meanwhile, is hopeful to win another title this season after winning three of the last four Class AAAAAAA state championships, and 10 titles in the last 12 years.
It will come with a change in the reins as Suzanne Fitzgerald, who spent 16 seasons as the Lady Raiders’ coach, stepped aside from the head-coaching role. Fitzgerald, though, is remaining around the program as a community coach, assisting new head coach Karen Duncan.
After Walton graduated starting setter Greta Hans, who is now at the Air Force Academy, Fitzgerald said the spot is still up for grabs.
“We had kids training last year that I think are definitely prepared for this season,” Fitzgerald said. “It doesn’t matter what grade you’re in. You earn that spot.”
Fitzgerald said to look out for middle Sophia Henry, who she said put her head down and went to work during the club season. Fitzgerald also said she is excited for the incoming freshmen who possess a lot of potential.
Despite all the adjustments, Fitzgerald said she is excited about Walton’s new place in Region 5AAAAAAA, and she looks forward to competing with region rival Cherokee, which the Lady Raiders defeated in the semifinals of last year’s state tournament.
“Change is necessary, and any time we’re confronted with change, it’s a positive for us because it’s going to push us in a direction we might not have gone just playing the same teams,” Fitzgerald said.
Pope finished in the final four of the Class AAAAAA state tournament, losing to eventual state champion Buford. This season, the Lady Greyhounds are in Region 7AAAAAA with teams such as Alpharetta, Lassiter and Blessed Trinity, which all reached at least the final four in their respective classifications.
Pope coach Angela Chapin said she is up for the challenge.
“Our region is probably the strongest one in the whole state,” she said. “We should rather compete than play easy matches. We know it’ll be a challenge, but we like it.”
After graduating Ayanna Rodgers, the 2021 Cobb County Player of the Year now at Tennessee Tech, Pope will look to junior Fifi Harvey to step into what Rodgers did for Pope.
Chapin is hopeful with the amount of talent she has to compete well this season.
“As a coach, I think my biggest challenge is going to make sure I’m playing the top kids, but also, there’s a lot of top kids,” Chapin said.
Other talented county teams are in position to make a deep playoff run and potentially play for a state title. Lassiter went 25-13, while Kennesaw Mountain finished 26-18 and advanced to the state quarterfinals. The Lady Mustangs, though, will have to make their run in Class AAAAAAA this season after moving up a classification.
Hillgrove, another state quarterfinalist, may be the favorite to win Region 3AAAAAAA.