Oct. 27—Some athletes in Georgia have to face the difficult choice of competing in either volleyball or softball in high school.
With the seasons running concurrently in the fall, it's an either/or decision.
Northwest Whitfield High School students looking to be a part of a successful team couldn't have made a bad decision in 2021.
The Lady Bruin volleyball team plays in the Elite 8 tonight, their second straight trip this deep into the Class 4A playoffs. The softball squad knocked off two teams of a higher seed in the first two rounds of the state playoffs to secure one of the eight spots in the state championship bracket. They open Thursday at 3 p.m. against Flowery Branch in the double-elimination tournament in Columbus.
The two Northwest squads are the last-standing programs in each of their respective sports in Whitfield and Murray counties.
"With both programs it's an expectation that we'll compete fairly deep in the playoffs," Northwest softball head coach Todd Middleton said. "It's not every year, but that's the goal."
The teams are no strangers to that success in recent years. Middleton led the Lady Bruins to softball state championships in 2012 and 2013. The volleyball squad has been competitive under head coach Kelsey Ikerd, and the Lady Bruins made the program's first run to the state finals last season before falling to state champion Marist.
The volleyball team hasn't dropped a set yet through two rounds of playoff competition as they battle to reach the state finals again. They play Chestatee tonight at 5 to move to the Final Four.
"Our motto is 'live today, but be future-minded,'" Ikerd said. "Everything we're doing today is to win today, but we also want to make sure that we're preparing for what we need to do to win tomorrow. We're always looking for the next step."
The Lady Bruin softball team has reached the Elite 8 despite entering the playoffs as the third seed in Region 7-4A.
"We kind of got hot at the right time," Middleton said. "Things just started clicking. The biggest thing I can say about it is that it's been fun. It's not the softball, it's just about them having fun right now. And it's been fun to watch."
All four playoff teams from Northwest's region have also navigated the first two rounds to reach Columbus. Fourth-seeded Cedartown reached the Elite 8 along with first- and second-seeded Central-Carroll and Heritage-Catoosa, the top two finishers in last season's state tournament.
Northwest's regular season record was 21-9, and seven of those losses came to the fellow Elite 8 squads in its region. The other two losses came against Gordon Lee, an Elite 8 team in Class 2A.
The Lady Bruins enter the bracket, which will play Thursday through Saturday in Columbus, battle-tested.
"All four of our teams are in the final eight, and there's another that could have made it just as easily," Middleton said. "Just playing that competition and playing doubleheaders every week helped also. We felt like we played Heritage and Central tough. That Central game where we played down there was a turning point for us. It was a 6-5 loss in extra innings. That's when we started to believe we could play with anybody."
The volleyball team, meanwhile, romped through their area undefeated to earn the top seed and hosting rights in the playoffs.
With a win tonight, Northwest secures a spot in the Final Four. The state semifinals and finals are at LakePoint Sports Champions Center in Emerson.