District volleyball tournaments start Monday around the state, as coaches, players and fans watch the post-season.
Crestview will play in the District 2-6A tournament, set for Choctawhatchee High School in Fort Walton Beach, while Baker and Laurel Hill will head to Milton for the District 1-1A tournament at Central.
It has been an up-and-down season for Crestview, but the Bulldogs have enough talent to pull off the upset if they play well and can start believing they are capable. Coach Kathy Combest has instilled work ethic in the team, but the girls must figure out how to win on their own.
It’s also fair to say that Laurel Hill will have to battle to get past the district tournament. The Hoboes have shown steady improvement under first-year Coach Ashley Miller, and they took Baker to four sets on Oct. 9 — so anything is possible. If the Hoboes show up and play a little beyond themselves, they could head to the state tournament.
While Crestview and Laurel Hill enter the district tournaments hoping to make the playoffs, Baker is expected to win. The Gators have won nine straight district tournaments and have advanced to the state playoffs each of the last 19 years and 20 of the last 21 seasons.
Baker made it to the Class 1A finals last year before falling to Lafayette in the championship match. The runner-up finish was the fourth in the program’s history.
The Gators are once again flying high and seem poised to make another deep run for a championship.
Baker has played up in competition throughout the season and has beaten Class 6A teams Choctawhatchee and Fort Walton Beach. Scheduling up in classification is only going to help the Gators’ confidence as they seek to advance through the playoffs.
The Gators have a strong starting lineup and the depth needed to survive long matches.
Katie Wickery provides Baker with the big hitter needed to get the opposition’s attention. Jordan Linzy, Savannah Risen, Haley Wagner, Hartley Moate and Alex Roy have been rock-solid impressive throughout the season.
Baker’s trip to Kissimmee and last year’s state tournament also should help the Gators. The Baker players have experienced the venue at the state tournament and know the routine if they advance to the final four.
For now, the Gators, Bulldogs and Hoboes must focus on the cliché of one win at a time. The most important things for all three teams is making it to the district tournament championship match and earning a spot in the state tournament.
Good teams usually rise to the top, come tournament time, so it will be interesting to see just how far in the tournament Baker can go this year. With an upset here or there in the district tournaments, Crestview and Laurel Hill could go to state as well.
The second season known as the playoffs is time for teams to dream big — so let the dreaming begin.
Randy Dickson is the Sports Editor of the Crestview News Bulletin. Email him at email@example.com, tweet him @BigRandle, or call 682-6524.