1. Baylor: In Division II-AA, the Lady Red Raiders are seeking a fifth consecutive East/Middle Region title and ninth state berth in succession. It helps having an all-state setter (Sarah Sumida) and four hitters 5-foot-10 or taller.
2. Cleveland: The District 5-AAA and Region 3 champions lost their fine libero to graduation, but they return a dominant hitter who’s surrounded by plenty of talent, such as junior setter Anna Renshaw.
3. Northwest Whitfield: The Lady Bruins graduated one player but return 10 who coach Kelsey Kirk said “have had ample varsity experience.” MaLane Kyer and Kailey Long were GHSA All-Area 6-AAAA picks in 2016.
4. Sale Creek: The Class A Lady Panthers graduated a key all-around contributor, but they return a strong senior nucleus in hitter Gracie Janow, setter Bailey Nelson and libero Morgan Weatherford.
5. Gordon Lee: Led by senior Aubree Yancey and another hitter, sophomore Gracie O’Neal, the Lady Trojans of GHSA Class A return eight players from last year’s team that won more than 30 matches.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
1. Emma Flowers, Cleveland: As a junior she had nearly 800 kills, almost 400 digs and helped the Class AAA Lady Raiders to several firsts, including a state-tournament trip for the first time.
2. Sarah Sumida, Baylor: She had more than 1,100 assists as a junior and was second in aces as the Lady Red Raiders finished as state runners-up.
3. Maia Rackel, Signal Mountain: The big-time leaper was one of the top two in kills and blocks as a junior last year for the Class AA state runner-up, and she was second in digs behind her team’s libero.
4. Holly Heath, Northwest Whitfield: The current senior was the 2016 GHSA Area 6-AAAA player of the year. She’s an outside hitter and defensive specialist and more than an adequate passer.
5. Lilly Berger, GPS: The senior has worked her way back from a torn ACL that happened early last season. She’s an outside hitter with the ability to lead the Bruisers in multiple statistical categories.
With the abundance of TSSAA private schools moving from Division I to Division II starting this school year, the state organization had to completely rework its districts and regions.
Many Chattanooga-area volleyball teams were affected so greatly that at district matches they may want to think about placing stickers on the front of their jerseys that read, HELLO MY NAME IS:
Volleyball season for Tennessee teams begins Monday. Area Georgia schools began their seasons last week.
One such TSSAA school affected most is Class AAA's Soddy-Daisy, which has moved from District 5 to District 6. Instead of competing in a district with longtime rival Ooltewah and the Bradley County schools, the Lady Trojans are the southernmost team in a league that includes Cookeville, Warren County and White County.
"We're having to travel quite a bit farther now," Soddy-Daisy coach Libby Peigen said. "But on the bright side, we're going from 12 district matches to eight district matches, which very much helps us with our scheduling."
The old District 5-AAA had a reputation as being one of the toughest in the state. At times the fourth- and even fifth-seeded teams in the district tournament had more than 20 victories overall.
Peigen, who acknowledged Cookeville clearly has been the team to beat in the district the Lady Trojans have joined, said she still scheduled matches with some former district opponents. They'll play at Cleveland and Ooltewah and will host Walker Valley on senior day.
"The extra 30 or 45 minutes we'll have to drive doesn't matter," Peigen said. "I'm excited. I'm ready to be a part of a new district and play some new teams and develop some new rivalries."
For those wondering why Class AA schools Red Bank and Signal Mountain (9.6 miles apart, according to mapquest.com) have never had teams in the same district, wonder no more. Red Bank moves from District 6 to District 7, which is now a four-team league with the departure of Chattanooga Christian and Notre Dame to Division II.
The neighboring schools are now in the same district in basketball, wrestling and baseball and softball as well. Red Bank athletic director, softball coach and former volleyball coach Mandi Munn said the new softball district looks much like the old one, with just the addition of the Lady Eagles, which is a much different look than the new volleyball alignment.
"I know for volleyball that Hixson is always a big rivalry," Munn said. "The kids are kind of bummed that's no longer going to be a district match. We're still going to play them. But it doesn't mean what it used to."
In past years in volleyball, if the Lionettes met up with Signal Mountain in the postseason, it wasn't even in the region tournament but rather state sectionals, where winners advance to the state tournament. Now they'll be competing to advance to the same region tournament.
"Signal is tough," Munn said of last year's state runner-up. "Luckily two teams come out of the district and move on to the region instead of one."
District 6's new look is only slightly different compared to some others involving local teams. The biggest change aside from Red Bank leaving is East Hamilton dropping from Class AAA to where it had been before.
In Class A, District 5 now looks a lot like the old District 6, with six teams moving over. Former District 6 member Van Buren County is now in District 3. District 5 has one holdover in Arts & Sciences.
For now there are no changes for Baylor and GPS in Division II-AA, where those teams will continue competing with teams from the midstate area in the East/Middle Region.
Contact Kelley Smiddie at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6653. Follow him on Twitter @KelleySmiddie.