However, not only is it a new season for the Lady Bears (32-14 in 2013), but it will be a new classification as well as they will be making their run for another state crown in Class AA in 2014 after the latest Georgia High School Association reclassification moved them up a level.
As a result, Holy Innocents’ will now be battling for area and state supremacy with defending AA champion Wesleyan as well as AA second-round team Greater Atlanta Christian in a four-team Area 4AA that also includes Rabun County this season.
Making things even more challenging for coach Taylor Noland and her Lady Bears is that only the top two teams from each area in AA receive automatic bids in the state tournament.
“There’s a lot of great competition in our small area,” Noland said. “We’re going to have to compete early on just to get to the state tournament. Wesleyan is a great program – we played them in the final four [in Class A] three years ago, so, it is very difficult. But I think that [playing a number of higher classification teams in non-area games during the regular season] is what helps us prepare for that.”
While Holy Innocents’ enters the season as a state champion, Noland said that was the past and her team is now focused on the challenges of the new season with a veteran group that features eight juniors and one senior.
“Essentially, we have six starters returning,” she said. “It’s a lot of the same core group. It’s just kind of the same thing, getting back into it. The players are getting used to each other and are getting to know each other – treating it as a new team in a new season. As far as I am concerned, what we did was great. But now, we’re here. We’re now moving forward and making a name in this classification.”
Holy Innocents’ split its first two matches of the season at Marist Aug. 13, defeating Pace 25-16, 25-14 and losing to host Marist 18-25, 25-23, 16-25.
Noland said she is impressed with how the team has come together as the season begins.
“The new players have blended in great,” Noland said. “The girls have been working hard. We went to Charleston [S.C.] for team camp over the summer. So everything so far is coming along. I’ve been very pleased.”
Junior outside hitter Haley Collins – the Class A player of the year in 2013 – returns to once again play a key role for the Golden Bears, along with senior outside hitter and Class A All-State selection Sarah Joe, a four-year starter.
Also leading the way are junior setter Sarah Porter, junior libero Helaina Theos and junior middle hitter Kathleen Ford.
Holy Innocents’ will now compete for a state championship in a Class AA that also features such contenders as local rival Lovett as well as area foes Wesleyan and GAC.