Losing in the semifinals of the Class AAAAA state volleyball playoff last season left a bad taste in the mouths of the Dunwoody High School volleyball team.
Since then, they have worked to get better and make another run in the playoffs. The team now looks poised to do that with a 29-3 regular season record. The Lady Wildcats are currently ranked No. 2 in Class AAAAA and have defeated some of the top teams in the state, including Marist and Class AAAAAA powerhouses No. 6 Roswell and No. 7 South Forsyth.
First-year head coach Doug Friedlander said from what he was told, last year’s team started off “a lot stronger.”
“It’s pretty much the same girls that are back,” he said. “I think their drive and having been to the final four before and now their goal is a little bit higher to not only make it to the final four but also make it to the state championship and put them in a position to win state.”
Dunwoody is leading All DeKalb County School District teams in aces (296), kills (729), blocks (83), assists (540), and digs (585). Friedlander said the team is dynamic.
“We can hit from wherever, and we still have some growth in our ball control, meaning our passing,” he said. “I think our serving is one of our great strengths that we focus a lot on. I think that if you can be a really good serving team you can really dictate matches.”
Friedlander also credited the team’s leadership, specifically senior Paige McKnight, for the team’s run.
“Across the board, just the level of play and their willingness to want to learn has been great,” he said. “It’s one of the things that you can only ask for as a coach to come into a team and have a really big group of learners.
“Paige is a great leader,” he added. “I think she has a level of competiveness that is just above and beyond and it elevates the level of everyone around her. That’s all that you can ask from a leader. I think she knows the game extremely well, and it helps our other athletes learn it very quickly.”
McKnight, who signed with Georgetown, is closing in on a milestone of 1,000 kills (currently at 945) for her career. She has already reached career assists 1,237. She said it means “a lot to me because it’s a big accomplishment,” McKnight said.
“It’ll be nice to obtain that goal because that was always one of my goals, but I never really thought I could do it so it’s nice that it could actually happen,” she said.
McKnight said she has tried to be more encouraging and positive this season to help the team win.
However, she also said the team has worked hard to get back to the playoffs and possibly win a state championship.
“Last year, no one really believed in us and actually thought we could go that far,” she said. “So now that we know it’s possible we’re all working a lot harder.
“It was really hard after we lost last year in the final four because it wasn’t even really close and I think we were all really disappointed,” she added. “We were all kind of riding the high of how good we were doing in the state playoffs. Since it was a bad loss, and we were really upset everyone has worked to get every rep perfect, always giving 100 percent effort so we can get better and win the state championship.”
Friedlander said it is going to take one match at a time to reach the goal of a state championship.
“Each opponent is different and it’s all about our preparation, not only physically but also our mental preparation for each match,” he said. “With the season being long as it is and with their life outside of volleyball it can become very overwhelming at times, so we focus a lot on just the mental toughness of that and how to compartmentalize it a little bit and put it aside when volleyball starts and reopen it when it’s over.”
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