Even defending champions aren’t above a case of first-match jitters.

After shaking off a slow start — and the early pressure one might expect for a team bearing the weight of the Area 7-4A crown — Dalton High’s volleyball team won its season opener at home against Southeast, 25-20, 25-11, on Tuesday.

The Lady Catamounts’ victory carried over an unbeaten streak in 7-4A that extends to last season, when they won the tournament title after going 7-0 in the area during the regular season.

“I know all season long we’re going to have a target on our back,” Dalton coach Lisa Donahue said. “Everyone wants to beat the defending champs. Then you add that we were undefeated, that adds a little more.”

Dalton’s composure was helped by solid play at the net from seniors Emily Broadrick, Liz Coffey, Haley Volhein and Lindsey Mashburn.

Once Broadrick — who had a match-high nine kills — took command up front midway through the opening game, Dalton turned aggressive and claimed points with greater ease.

“We just had to settle down a little bit and start playing our game, do our things,” Donahue said. “We also, that first game, we didn’t serve very well at the beginning. But then once we got our serves in, we just plugged away. They got a few points, but we didn’t get unglued.”

Southeast held the lead early in the first game, but never stretched it beyond three points. Dalton took its first lead at 13-12 and never trailed again.

The Lady Cats pushed the margin to 19-13 with junior Christie Eichberg serving for four straight points and had the lead at seven twice before the Lady Raiders staged a last-gasp rally to make it 24-20.

The Lady Cats had no early struggles in the second game, cruising to a 13-5 lead with Volhein serving for five straight points.

“Coming out of that first game on top just gave us the momentum to carry over,” Donahue said. “And luckily, we were able to continue that the first part of the second game and build on it.”

Coffey added eight kills for Dalton, Volhein had five and junior setter Emily Clark contributed 20 assists.

Donahue also singled out the play of Eichberg, who moved from her regular spot at middle blocker to start on the right side.

“I just wanted to use her height to help with the blocking and she played excellent for not really being comfortable in that position,” Donahue said. “She wasn’t a starter last year, so for her to step up, the first game in a new position, was good.”

The loss was a frustrating start for the Lady Raiders — ranked No. 9 in the GaSports.com preseason coaches poll — who pushed Dalton at the end of last season and took the best-of-five area finals to a fourth game.

“They were hitting with location on the tips and we weren’t covering,” Southeast coach Jake Dickey said. “That was the story of the first game. The second game we kind of lost our composure really and started passing from our heels instead of on our toes.”

Heather Payne, Kelsey Blevins and Morgan Johnson each had two kills for Southeast, while Lindsay Lamb added four assists.

Although Southeast never settled into a rhythm against Dalton, Broadrick spoke respectably of the Lady Raiders and considered the win a confidence booster with the season under way.

“We were really nervous coming out because we knew they were such a good team,” Broadrick said, “but we knew that we could do it.”

Southeast won the junior varsity match, 25-20, 25-10, over Dalton.

Dalton’s Mary Faith Erwin and Millie Davis each had two kills, while Hilary Brock had two blocks. Southeast did not keep individual statistics for the match.

— Ringgold’s Lady Tigers defeated Northwest Whitfield, 25-17, 25-9, in the season-opening match for both Area 7-4A teams.

Christy Robinson had eight kills to pace the Lady Bruins and Quaniesha McCurty had one kill and three blocks. Kelsey Kirk added four kills with one block.

“We’ve got a young, inexperienced team,” Northwest coach Richard Taylor said. “We started three sophomores and a freshman and Ringgold is a real veteran team. They took advantage of us. We have potential and by the end of the year I hope we’re playing much better.

Varsity softball

— Ringgold 5, Northwest 4: Ringgold pitcher Caty Sparks struck out 10 and scattered six hits as the Lady Tigers edged Northwest in the season-opening game for both Region 7-4A teams in Ringgold.

Lauren Walden’s sacrifice fly with two outs in the sixth inning produced the Lady Tigers’ go-ahead run against Northwest pitcher Emily Headrick. Chelsea Davis and Haley Gibson each collected two hits for Ringgold. Monica Davenport drove in two runs.

Headrick gave up eight hits and all five runs — three were earned — while striking out two and walking three.

The Lady Bruins got two hits from Becca Renfroe while Stephanie Sewell and Callie Thomas each had a hit and an RBI.

JV volleyball

Northwest knocked off Ringgold 25-18, 25-19 behind Morgan Ridley’s 10 kills and one block.

Adrienne Orem was 13-for-13 on serves with five aces for the Lady Bruins while Alex Warren was 9-for-9 on serves with four aces and three kills.

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