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Thursday May 26th, 2016 4:45AM

Volleyball: Area teams ready for test in season-opening 'Battle at The Branch'

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor
FLOWERY BRANCH -- Rick Godfrey knows the work his team has put in this summer. He's seen the sweat and toil, and he knows there's plenty of talent to go around.<br /> <br /> But Godfrey admits he's still not 100 percent certain of what to expect from his Flowery Branch volleyball squad.<br /> <br /> That will all change after Saturday, however, as the Lady Falcons host the Battle at The Branch season-opening tournament at Flowery Branch High.<br /> <br /> "Until you're really tested against a team in a game, you don't really know... I think this weekend will pay dividends for us," Godfrey said. "We'll figure out what to work on and how we're going to react in a real endurance situation."<br /> <br /> It is a sentiment shared by a number of the 12 teams competing at "The Battle" -- including a number of northeast Georgia-based squads.<br /> <br /> "It's going to be a good measuring stick for us," North Hall coach Emi Hughes said. "It will allow us to get in the groove and see what a lot of the competition around the area looks like."<br /> <br /> Indeed, eight teams from around northeast Georgia will take part in the day-long event, also including Chestatee, Gainesville, Habersham Central, Jefferson, Johnson and Lakeview Academy.<br /> <br /> The tournament guarantees each team four games, with three contests in the morning followed by single elimination games beginning in the afternoon. Teams will be re-seeded after the morning battles into bronze, silver and gold pools, with champions named in the gold and silver pools. Teams from Sandy Creek, Tucker, Harris County and Salem will also take part in the tournament -- which promises tough competition, not least of which due to the increasing ability of area squads.<br /> <br /> "Across the board the level of play in (northeast Georgia) has been raised," Hughes said. "It's so competitive around here now, and it will be interesting to see just how everything pans out."<br /> <br /> Godfrey agreed.<br /> <br /> "All the teams around here are tough," the Lady Falcons coach said. "The level of play has increased by leaps and bounds every year I've been here. We've got to be ready to go come this weekend."<br /> <br /> Area teams will begin region play in the weeks following "The Battle" -- which was moved up to a season-opening competition this season -- and a number of local squads hold high hopes for the upcoming campaign.<br /> <br /> That certainly includes the Lady Falcons and Lady Trojans, which each feature senior-laden squads. But even the younger players in area squads are now ready to come in and contribute quicker, with more and more players turning to year-round involvement in the sport.<br /> <br /> "I think we've got good depth, and that will help us, especially on tournament days like Saturday when it's hard to keep your concentration all day," Godfrey said. <br /> <br /> A number of area players should now be used to exactly that kind of stress after experiencing the club side of the sport.<br /> <br /> "Our players are now part of a group that plays year-round in Suwanee or Athens," Hughes said. "We're very comfortable with the players we've got."<br /> <br /> And, come Saturday, a number of area coaches will get a chance to see just how those players measure up under the lights.
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