By CHRIS GOLTERMANN
The pessimist might say that Newnan’s 3-0 loss to North Gwinnett in the GHSA Class 7A Elite 8 volleyball tournament was a disappointment.
The optimist might want to step outside with the above subject for a word or two.
Newnan’s season wasn’t quite as storybook as what could have been hoped for heading into this summer with a group led by six seniors and the anticipation of a state championship coach returning to guide them to continued glory.
Life, however, isn’t a storybook.
That didn’t stop the Lady Cougars and coaches Janet Brown and Megan Chevalier from getting back to the GHSA Elite 8 for the third consecutive season after the team was unable to defend both a county and region crown.
It was one step further than three other GHSA programs, all of whom experienced their share of successes in another stellar year for Coweta County high school volleyball.
Newnan, which began the year with Brown and Chevalier taking the reins following the passing of incoming veteran head coach Amber McClure to melanoma in the brain, didn’t go down without a fight.
The Lady Cougars took leads during all three games of a 25-27, 19-25, 23-25 decision at North Gwinnett on Saturday among a vocal home crowd during a trip to Suwanee.
The No. 2 state-ranked Lady Bulldogs will now be mighty underdogs against powerhouse Walton — shooting for state title No. 9 this decade — in the Class 7A Final Four.
Each time, however, North Gwinnett was able to survive and advance while Newnan closed its season at 25-16 in a bit of a drop-off from two previous 30-plus win campaigns.
Forced to pick themselves up from a schedule that included a dozen losses to teams that reached at least the Sweet 16, and seven of which moved on to this week’s Final Four, Newnan stayed the course with two straight playoff victories.
The Lady Cougars, whose lineup included three sets of siblings that were among the team’s half-dozen seniors, held together by taking an 18-16 lead in the opening set and forcing three consecutive game points before North Gwinnett rallied.
Newnan then jumped ahead 3-0 in the second set, only to have the Lady Bulldogs answer back behind Georgia commit Alexa Fortin to take a two games to none lead in the match.
Not done yet, Newnan broke away again in game three to take a 23-19 advantage following six lead changes.
But North Gwinnett closed out the match on a 6-0 run to advance to the semifinals, having been knocked out of last year’s Sweet 16 in a 3-2 loss to a North Forsyth team that went on to lose 3-2 at Newnan after the Lady Cougars rallied from down two sets to none.
It closed out the varsity careers of seniors Taitum Boston and Madison Headley, who were contributors to all three Elite 8 campaigns, in addition to Ellie Oldham and Maggie Strickland. Twins Madison and Morgan Sestrich added their talents to the everyday rotation this fall, creating more depth among the roster on offense and defense.
Along with Central Christian, which won this year’s GICAA Division II-A Region 4 title and advanced to the state semifinals, Coweta County’s six playoff teams all had deep playoff runs.
In the GHSA, Northgate repeated as Region 5-6A champions and advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time in two years, finishing 2018 with a 30-19 overall record. Seniors Kaela Busby, Emily Dozier, Payton Gaston and Mary Lauren Golden led the way.
East Coweta captured a region title for the first time since 2015 and advanced to its sixth straight Sweet 16 appearance before falling to Lassiter. A 29-14 season was paced by seniors Becca Sieckmann and Nahla Muhammad at outside hitter and senior libero Ryan Spicer-Gordon.
Trinity Christian’s first season in the GHSA also had the Lady Lions advancing to the Class AA/A Private Sweet 16 in the first year of the classification. A Lady Lions roster that included seniors Juliana Howser and Jordan Gregg finished with a solid 28-7 record.
Heritage School’s road to a second consecutive GISA crown included three GHSA semifinalists in McIntosh and Whitewater (5A), as well as Pace Academy (3A).
At 27-6, the Lady Hawks went unbeaten against GISA opponents. A roster including five seniors remains heavy among underclassmen.
Central Christian closed its season at 14-6 with an undefeated 6-0 region record. The Lady Crusaders ended its year in the GICAA Final Four with a loss to eventual II-A state champions Habersham School.