The road to the Georgia Independent School Association state championships will run through Augusta Prep once again this year – literally.
The Cavaliers play host to the 2013 GISA State Volleyball Championships for the second-consecutive year. Class AAA, which the Lady Cavaliers are a part of, begin Friday at 10 a.m. with Class AA starting play in the afternoon.
Since volleyball became a GISA sport in 2002, head coach Rich Bland’s first year, the Lady Cavaliers have won the region championship 11 out of 12 years, finishing second in their region in 2011.
The Lady Cavaliers won back-to-back state championships in 2006-2007 and appear primed to make a serious run at it this season. With three seniors and nine juniors on the roster, the Lady Cavaliers have already shattered their previous record (26) for wins in a season, entering the tournament with a 29-3 mark, 12-0 in the region.
Two of the losses have come to the Trinity Christian School Lady Lions, the two-time defending GISA Class AAA state champion. With Trinity Christian the Region 2 champions, the first time the two could meet for a third time would be in Saturday’s championship match.
The Lady Cavaliers begin play Friday at 11:30 a.m. facing Mount de Sales, the Region 2 No. 4 seed, and would play again at 4 p.m. Friday with a win.
The Class AAA final begins at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday.
The Class AA semifinals begin at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, with the championship match at 1 p.m. on Saturday.
“I am proud of the team for winning our region (12-0) as the competition was tougher this year,” wrote Bland in an e-mail, whose squad reached the state semifinals before dropping a four-set match in 2012. “We set two goals each season, one to win region, as that gives us a #1 seed in the state tournament. Two, to win the state championship, they know the bar is high, but it helps motivate the team to reach their potential.”
Bland and the Lady Cavaliers faced challenges early on as 2012 starting middle blocker Morgan Ferguson moved to Athens, Ga. and All-State outside hitter Brooke Stevens had a back injury that sidelined her most of the season.
Bland had to move players around and was happy with the way it turned out.
“The team has responded to win the most matches in Augusta Prep history, and put themselves in a good place to contend,” wrote Bland. “I am proud of their flexibility this season, because we have had to run many more lineups than any other team that I have coached here at Prep.”
Staying in position were senior libero Herrington Murray and junior setter Hannah Masiongale. Murray leads the team in passing and digs (158) while Masiongale leads the way with 544 assists and 103 aces. From outside hitter, Savina Patheja leads the team with 207 kills while Margaret Cavanaugh moved to the middle and leads the team in blocks and is second in kills and aces.
The upside for the Lady Cavaliers is high.
“We know we have the ability to win a state title if we can play our best brand of volleyball for three matches this next weekend,” wrote Bland. “That being said, no match will be easy in the tournament, and the fact that it is single elimination gives each play, each set, each match a palpable sense of urgency.”