Monday (All times EDT)
• 5-AAA at Ooltewah: 4:30-Bradley Central vs. Cleveland; 6-Walker Valley vs. East Hamilton; 7:30-McMinn County vs. Soddy-Daisy
• 7-AA (moves Tuesday to Signal Mountain): 5:30-Grundy County at Bledsoe County; Sequatchie County at Notre Dame
• 6-A at South Pittsburg: 4:30-Richard Hardy vs. Lookout Valley; 6-Marion County vs. Van Buren County; 7:30-South Pittsburg vs. Whitwell
• 5-A at Boyd-Buchanan: 5:30-CGLA vs. Silverdale Baptist Academy; 7-Copper Basin vs. Grace Academy
• 6-AA at Red Bank: 4-Brainerd vs. East Ridge; 5:30-Tyner vs. Central; Howard vs. Hixson; 7-Brainerd-East Ridge winner vs. Red Bank; Tyner-Central winner vs. Howard-Hixson winner
Coaches of the top four seeded teams in the District 6-AA high school volleyball tournament basically said the same thing this past week when asked about the tournament.
"This year, more than any year I can remember, things are more equal," said Mandi Munn, coach of tournament host and top-seeded Red Bank. "When the top four teams have played, most of the games have gone five sets. It's just going to depend which teams show up."
Area district tournaments begin Monday with 5-AAA, 7-AA, 5-A and 6-A starting things off. Districts 7-AA and 6-A will conclude Tuesday with championships at about 7 and 7:30 p.m. EDT, respectively. Districts 5-AAA and 5-A will wrap up Wednesday with championships at 6.
District 6-AA will start Tuesday. Thursday's championship is scheduled for 6.
All district finalists move on to region play next week.
Should the seedings hold in 6-AA, regular-season champion Red Bank would square off Tuesday night with fourth-seeded East Ridge. The teams played last Tuesday in the final district match for both, and Red Bank won 3-1.
Abby Graham is a versatile player and leads the Lionettes in assists. Fellow senior Autumn Babb is the digs leader. Junior Caitlin Jenkins paces a balanced hitting attack and sophomore Dani Usher is the blocks leader.
Although East Ridge's Lady Pioneers lost their district matches to the teams seeded ahead of them, they took third-seeded Central to five sets.
"As long as Coach Neely's there, you can't count out East Ridge," second-seeded Hixson coach Janet Tate said.
Neely, a 50-year coaching veteran who is third nationally in victories, said the district is loaded with good hitters.
"Being able to finish and keeping our defense up is key for us," Neely said. "We've got to be extra, extra alert. We've had a pretty good blocking season. We're getting better. You just hope you're playing right at the right time."
Junior Hannah Eldridge leads the Lady Pioneers in kills and digs, and senior Michelle Hughes leads in blocks. Sophomore Kyhonah Lawrence is the leader in assists and aces, and senior Ieashia Taylor contributes several ways.
Although the result wasn't always the same when the teams met in tournaments, Hixson hosted and defeated Central 3-2 on Sept. 5 in the match that counted in the district standings. The Lady Purple Pounders were the preseason pick by the coaches.
"I think we'll still be OK with the seed we have," said Central kills and blocks leader Tiffani Estep, a senior who has committed to Shorter. "We still have goals we can reach, and I think we can."
Sophomores Samantha Scott and Rebekah Hill lead the back-row play for the Lady Pounders, and Scott is tops in aces. Sisters Chasidy and Lexie Ainslie, a senior and a sophomore, are the setters.
Hixson's Lady Wildcats have an all-around player in senior Ciera Taylor, and sophomore Tay Tay Staten sparks the play at the net. Junior libero Abby Tipton leads in digs and senior Jessica Green is a defensive specialist who's second in aces to Taylor.
"We play a lot better when we communicate better," Green said. "We've got to not make too many mistakes if we want to win, and we have to have a lot more ball control."
Munn said she hopes having the tournament at Red Bank will be an advantage because her girls seem to play better at home. But she knows nothing is guaranteed given this top-heavy district's identity.
"It's a clean slate again," Central coach Robin Moore said. "That's just the way we've got to look at it."
Contact Kelley Smiddie at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6653. Follow him at twitter.com/KelleySmiddie.