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Troup, LaGrange volleyball teams to meet

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

They believe they have what it takes to bring home an area championship, but first things first.

Troup High’s volleyball team enters the Area 5-AAAA tournament as the number two seed, and it finished the regular season with eight consecutive victories.

The only area match Troup lost all season came against Cartersville, and those two could be headed for a showdown in the area-championship match on Thursday.

Troup has some work to do before that becomes a reality, though.

Troup (20-16 overall) opens tournament play on Tuesday at Chapel Hill against a familiar opponent, the LaGrange Lady Grangers.

Troup won all three regular-season meetings against LaGrange in straight sets, but there is no guarantee it’ll happen a fourth time.

The two local rivals will meet at 5 p.m. in the opening match of the double-elimination tournament.

“We got beat last year,” Troup head coach Leigh Bailey said. “So you can’t make that assumption. It’s who shows up that day. You can get beat really quickly.”

Troup dominated the regular-season matches against LaGrange a year ago as well before falling short in the area tournament.

LaGrange went on to qualify for the state playoffs, while Troup was denied a state bid.

That was a major disappointment for a Troup team that reached the second round of the state tournament in 2016.

“We won’t look past where we’re at,” Bailey said. “We did that last year. And so I’m super-focused on every match, every game, and just getting them to have that mindset.”

No team in the area comes into the tournament playing better than Troup.

Troup dropped five straight matches in September against some high-caliber competition.

Beginning with a victory over Central-Carroll on Sept. 18, though, Troup hasn’t lost.

Troup extended its winning streak to eight with last week’s straight-sets win over LaGrange that ended the regular season.

Troup hasn’t played Cartersville since Sept. 11, and it was a tough day.

Cartersville won the opening set 25-17, and it finished things off with a hard-fought 25-23 win in the second set.

That was part of a rough stretch for Troup when it lost seven of eight matches, but the team has done nothing but win for nearly a month now.

“I feel like every season you start out strong, and there’s that middle section where you’re kind of letting down, and then you’re tired,” said Regina Hernandez, one of two seniors on the team along with Anna Murphy. “And then you get the second wind toward the end. I feel like when we played (Cartersville) we were in that weird time. We know that we can beat them.”

Murphy recalls that “Cartersville just fought a little bit harder than us,” in the earlier match, but she feels the team is in a much better place now than it was a month ago.

“I don’t think the season’s going to end anytime soon,” Murphy said. “I think we’re going to keep going. We have a great group of girls, and we’re all driven.”

Murphy and Hernandez have helped the team reach this point. They’re both multi-year starters and have been key contributors this year.

Murphy leads the team in kills with 211 and is tied for the top spot in blocks with 82, and Hernandez is among the team leaders in a number of categories, and she leads the way in aces with 51.

Beyond what they do on the court, Bailey said they’ve been fantastic leaders for their teammates.

“They’ve been mentors to the team,” Bailey said. “At practice, they’re coaching, they’re being leaders. The thing about them is, if someone is doing something wrong, they encourage them how to do it in a very positive way.”

Whatever happens the remainder of this season, the future is bright for Troup’s team with everyone but the two seniors set to return next year.

Among those underclassmen is Landen Sheets, who is second on the team with 136 kills.

Junior Kate Moore is third on the team with 92 kills and she leads the way with 31 blocks, and sophomore Amauriya Brown has 84 kills.

Junior Kyla Bailey has contributed 46 kills, and she leads the team with 245 assists.

A lot of the kills are made possible by the players who keep the ball in play, and no one has done that better than junior Taylor Doughman, who is far and away the team leader with 518 digs.

LaGrange, meanwhile, would love to see a repeat of a year ago when it upset Troup in the first round of the area tournament.

It will be the final area tournament for LaGrange’s seniors, Jaiden Gill, Kiara Owens, Shanteria Kelly, Ke’Tara Birt, Inijah Jones, Chloe Beall, Carmen McGhee and Hannah Holcomb.

While LaGrange has struggled to put wins on the board, head coach Angie Newton said “we’ve improved a lot this year.”

“We’ve seen a lot of improvement out of a lot of the players,” she added. “A lot of great things have happened throughout the year. We’ve had great camaraderie. They’ve stayed up. They cheer each other on. They give each other high fives, and they root each other on. So, I’m very proud of them for that.”