FLORETTE - A dozen AHSAA volleyball teams received Southern hospitality in the Brewer High Invitational Saturday, signifying the start of the 2018 Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) season.
Three were from the Cullman County school system. Defending county champion Fairview Lady Aggies, plus the Good Hope Lady Raiders and Holly Pond Lady Broncos, went through a round-robin schedule.
Good Hope claimed second in Pool B with Fairview the runner-up in Pool C. That put the Lady Raiders and Lady Aggies into the tournament stage in the late afternoon.
Pool play standings:
Pool A: Brewer 3-0, Athens 2-1 Belgreen 1-2, Elkmont 0-3.
Pool B: Muscle Shoals 3-0, Good Hope 2-1, Decatur Heritage 1-2, Holly Pond 0-3.
Pool C: Deshler 3-0, Fairview 2-1, Austin 1-2, Athens Bible 0-3.
Both Good Hope and Fairview started pool play 2-0 before losing in their finale that dropped the pair to second and a matchup against one another in the tournament round.
Good Hope defeated a strong Decatur Heritage squad 25-18, 25-21, then outplayed Holly Pond 25-20, 25-8 before Muscle Shoals swept the Lady Raiders 25-22, 25-17.
Fairview toppled Austin 25-17, 25-16, fought off Athens Bible 25-14, 20-25 and 15-13. Deshler handed the Lady Aggies a 25-23 and 25-16 setback in the early afternoon.
Holly Pond played competitive in its three assignments, but was unable to move into the win column, losing in straight sets to Good Hope, Decatur Heritage and Muscle Shoals.
Fairview and Good Hope do have valuable experience back in 2018, despite losing key personnel to graduation. Coach Tracy Means' Lady Aggies were anchored by veterans Katie Ball and Micah Means, plus got good play Saturday from Daisy Manasco, Alivia Boyll, Tess Bailey, Isabella McGukin and Sarah Bryan.
Good Hope no longer has Kate Kent, Abby Knight and Leyton Seal. Each have graduated, but Natasha Holcombe's Lady Raiders have experience in Chrissi Smith, Skylar Tucker, Jesse Kent, Savanna Burney and look for contributions from Alee Jackson, Abby Neighbors, Madalyn Williams and Riley Smith.
For Holly Pond, coach Emily Brown is senior strong with Tess Duke, Kara Hollis, Sydney Dunkin, Maddie Heatherly, Cassie Carter and Lili Harris.
The Lady Broncos received depth during the summer when Ashley Duke transferred from St. Bernard Prep and made an impact in two close games with Decatur Heritage.
Tournament host Brewer has half a dozen seniors that set the tone in sweeping the opposition in Pool A. Coach Amy Keel features McCarley Northway, Joan Lang, Carly Fairbanks, Molly Rice, Brianna Causey and Madison Adams, entering the final season in a Brewer uniform.
Regular season play locally begins on Tuesday.
Cold Springs & Vinemont will play in a tri-match at Fairview, Cullman is in a tri-match with Randolph and Guntersville at Guntersville, Good Hope takes a trip to Priceville, Holly Pond plays at Boaz.
On Thursday, Cold Springs visits St. Bernard, Vinemont & West Point are in a tri-match at Good Hope, Fairview heads to Sardis, Cullman entertains Austin & Winfield in a tri-match, Brooks and Mortimer Jordan play a tri-match at Hanceville.
All schools in the county will be off next weekend for the Labor Day holiday period.
Photo 1: Good Hope coach Natasha Holcombe and team captain Chrissi Smith (25) prior to match with Holly Pond Saturday.
Photo 2: Fairview's Katie Ball waiting for Austin to serve the ball across the net.
Photo 3: Holly Pond coach Emily Brown directs Lady Broncos in game with Good Hope.
Sportspage photos by Johnny Thornton