Oct. 25—On Wednesday, the Von Braun Center in Huntsville will once again play host to the North Regional volleyball tournament.
The event is the AHSAA's annual contest to decide which four teams from the North will represent each classification in the state tournament next week in Birmingham.
The format is simple, win two matches at the regional and you advance to Birmingham. Lose one of those two and your season is over.
This year, 11 teams from the Daily's coverage area are competing in the regional. Last year five Daily teams — Hartselle, Lawrence County, Priceville, West Morgan and Lindsay Lane — advanced to the state tournament. All five are back in the regional again this year.
Hartselle will be playing its second regional under coach Lindsey Crumpton. The second-year coach said there's a different feel heading into this tournament compared to last year.
"I think our team is a little more gritty this year," Crumpton said. "They're playing with a chip on their shoulder."
Hartselle has played a top-notch schedule so far this season to prepare for this tournament. The Tigers will certainly need it. They must face Buckhorn and then potentially Mountain Brook to advance.
"I don't think there's any team in 6A that has a tougher first two rounds than us," Crumpton said. "But I schedule tough for a reason. I never want kids to be surprised when they get here."
"Buckhorn and Mountain Brook are great teams," Crumpton added, "but it's nothing we haven't already seen this season."
Another team with a second-year coach looking to get back to Birmingham is Priceville. Emily Logan led the Bulldogs to the state tournament for just the second time in school history in 2022 and the team is hoping to make it a common occurrence.
"We're trying to change the culture here at Priceville," Logan said.
With a younger team, the Bulldogs have had an up and down season. But the team has hit its stride late in the year, recently winning the area championship for the second straight year.
"I never try to coach for what we are now, but what we can be," Logan said. "I scheduled tough because I thought we had the chance to be a really strong team. I think we're seeing the fruits of that now."
Falkville didn't advance to Birmingham last year, but the Blue Devils are riding high entering this week's regional. Last week, Falkville upset Lindsay Lane for the first time to win the school's first area championship since 2003.
Now, the Blue Devils are trying to get back to the state tournament for the first time since 2015.
"Our girls are fired up," Falkville coach Angie Tomlin said. "I think (beating Lindsay Lane) showed them they can beat anybody."
Then there's the Lawrence County.
The Red Devils were a powerhouse in the 1990s, winning four straight titles from 1996-99. Despite remaining one of the state's top programs every year since, however, the program has failed to win another title.
Longtime coach Robyn Hutto, who's hinted that each year she draws closer to retirement, might have her best chance to add another championship this season. The Red Devils come into the tournament with a 44-21 record and at one point won 21 straight matches this season.
Lawrence County has been to state tournament the last two seasons and features a roster of starters who have played in at least one of those tournaments.
"We're confident but not cocky," Hutto said. "Our girls have been here before and have had success so we're well prepared."
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