The high school volleyball team didn’t put Sonoraville on the map, but thanks to the Lady Phoenix’s recent work on the court, more people are learning where it is.
“We’re a small rural school tucked away in the foothills of the the North Georgia mountains,” Sonoraville coach Nathan Smith said. “I’ve heard people try to pronounce it all kinds of ways.”
For those who still can’t find Sonoraville on the map, they can at least find the Lady Phoenix firmly entrenched in two state top-10 rankings. They’re rated No. 4 in Class AAA in the Atlanta Journal Constitution poll and No. 5 in the PrepCountry.com/GACA coaches poll.
“It’s something we’re proud of,” Smith said. “This year is the first time we’ve had a ranking in either poll.”
The next step in the progression for the fifth-year program was to branch out in search of rugged competition. The Lady Phoenix found plenty of that this weekend in the Tennessee Tandem tournament held at GPS, Ooltewah and Baylor.
St. Agnes won the tournament’s Gold bracket at GPS on Saturday, defeating Hillcrest, Greenville, S.C. After going 1-2 in Friday’s pool play, Sonoraville (23-9) ended up 4-3 and third in the Silver bracket.
“The program has steadily improved, the last three years especially,” Smith said. “We felt like it was time to take another step. We’ve won 30 matches the last two years. It was time to make the schedule a little tougher. We want to go deeper in the [GHSA] playoffs, and coming up here will definitely make us tougher.”
Two key components for the Lady Phoenix have been juniors Kristi Vaughn and Carrie Cheeks. Both play some at outside hitter with the 5-foot-10 Vaughn also doing some setting and the 6-21⁄2 Cheeks contributing at middle blocker.
Smith said Cheeks is young for a junior and still has some developing to do. She has played basketball for as long as she can remember but didn’t begin playing volleyball until Smith encouraged her when she was a freshman.
“I didn’t know we had a team,” said Cheeks, Sonoraville’s leader in kills and blocks.
Vaughn began playing volleyball when she was in middle school and unquestionably is the floor leader. In addition to being second on the team in kills, digs and serving percentage, she was within two assists of team leader Bre Horner after Saturday morning’s win over Southeast Whitfield, which is No. 2 in Georgia Class AAAA in the AJC poll and No. 5 in the other.
“We hit really well,” Cheeks said. “We still need to improve on being in position.”
That’s what the Lady Phoenix are hoping to get out of tournament play. They won Murray County’s Spikefest in mid-August, then struggled in the Bradley Bash in Cleveland a week later but without either of their setters.
All of their losses to date are from teams from Tennessee.
“We actually hope to be in the state finals,” said Vaughn, who was a freshman starter on a team that advanced to a school-best round of 16 in the state playoffs. “That’s our team goal.”
If that goal is reached, the prevailing thought is that top-ranked Blessed Trinity, which came from Roswell to Chattanooga two weeks ago and won the Choo Choo tournament at East Ridge, will be looming. But from here on, Sonoraville plays nothing but Georgia teams and hasn’t lost to one all season.
“Every game from now on is big,” Vaughn said. “Every point counts.”
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.