SAKS — Whitney Welch counts herself one of the lucky Calhoun County high school volleyball coaches this season.
Her Alexandria team’s COVID-19 damage only involved a couple of players quarantined.
They’re all back and healthy, and county coaches voted the defending champion Valley Cubs as the top seed in the county tournament, set for Oct. 3 and 5 at multiple sites.
The Valley Cubs will enter the tournament adversity-tested.
“Our kids are pretty resilient and tough,” Welch said. “It was good for them to kind of see some adversity like that early. Hopefully, it will serve us well toward the end.”
As a preventative measure amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the top four seeds will host through the quarterfinals. Besides Alexandria, that includes No. 2 and 2019 runner-up Jacksonville, No. 3 and defending 1A state champion Donoho and No. 4 Ohatchee.
Semifinals will play out at 2020-21 county host school Saks on Oct. 3 at 3 p.m. The championship is Oct. 5 at Jacksonville State University’s Pete Mathews Coliseum at a time to be determined.
The county volleyball tournament will mark the first varsity county championship played since Piedmont won the county baseball tournament in early March.
The Alabama High School Athletic Association suspended team activities in mid-March and ultimately canceled the rest of the spring sports season. Fall sports started on schedule, and volleyball is the first county championship on the calendar.
County volleyball teams have struggled mightily with COVID-19, however. Pleasant Valley and Saks began full-team quarantines this week, leaving them barely enough time to return before the county tournament. White Plains and Weaver just returned from full-team quarantines.
Welch represented Alexandria and Pleasant Valley at Wednesday’s seeding meeting at Saks High School. Pleasant Valley coach Dana Bryant was absent because of quarantine.
At one point, Welch humorously obliged when Saks principal Jody Whaley told her she could raise both hands in a vote.
Not that anyone in the room finds humor in the pandemic’s impact on the season. Alexandria middle hitter Lexi Weber just got back from quarantine and played this past weekend at Hartselle and in a victory over Jacksonville. Junior outside hitter Crossley Sparks also quarantined.
Player absences came as Alexandria looked to be playing well, Welch said, and the Valley Cubs are just now returning to form.
“We were looking really good at the beginning of the year,” Welch said. “We were kind of seamless and looking like ourselves early, and then we had the quarantine.
“We struggled during that time and even a few games after, getting everybody back. I felt like the other night, both of the games really, that we started hit on all cylinders a little bit. We looked like our old selves.”
With two weeks and change left until the start of the county tournament, count Welch among coaches who just want their teams to get healthy. If an untimely quarantine were to occur and keep a team out of the county tournament, there’s no plan to reseed.
Whaley said any change in the bracket would have to be approved by county principals.
Rounding out the seeds were No. 5 Pleasant Valley, No. 6 Oxford, No. 7 White Plains, No. 8 Piedmont, No. 9 Wellborn, No. 10 Saks, No. 11 Weaver, No. 12 Jacksonville Christian, No. 13 Faith Christian and No. 14 Anniston.
First-round, second-round and quarterfinal sites depend on bracket pods.
At Alexandria, the top seed awaits the second-round winner between No. 8 Piedmont and No. 9 Wellborn.
No. 2-seeded Jacksonville will host the second-round match between No. 7 White Plains and No. 10 Saks and play the winner.
No. 3-seeded Donoho’s pod includes No. 6 Oxford, which awaits the winner between No. 11 Weaver and No. 14 Anniston.
At No. 4 Ohatchee, No. 5 Pleasant Valley awaits the winner between No. 12 JCA and No. 13 Faith.
Matches begin at 9 a.m. on Oct. 3 at Ohatchee and Donoho. All four host sites will host second-round matches at 10:30 a.m. and noon quarterfinals.
Semifinals will be at 3 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. at Saks. The championship match will start at 6 p.m. or 7 p.m., pending a decision by JSU officials.
The overarching hope is that all teams will get through the next two weeks plus and to the county tournament healthy.
“It’s just one of those years where you don’t ever know what’s going to happen,” Welch said. “You just try to be prepared every day to do the best you can.
“I’m hoping we can get everybody back. The one thing that’s special about our county tournament is we have a lot of good teams. It’s always historically been strong. I wouldn’t want to play it any other way.”
Calhoun County volleyball tournament
No. 8 Piedmont vs. No. 9 Wellborn, 10:30 a.m.
No. 1 Alexandria vs. Piedmont-Wellborn, noon
No. 7 White Plains vs. no. 10 Saks, 10:0 a.m.
No. 2 Jacksonville vs. White Plains-Saks, noon
No. 11 Weaver vs. No. 14 Anniston, 9 a.m.
No. 6 Oxford vs. Weaver-Anniston, 10:30 a.m.
No. 3 Donoho vs. Weaver-Anniston-Oxford, noon
No. 13 Faith Christian vs. No. 12 Jacksonville Christian, 9 a.m.
No. 5 Pleasant Valley vs. the JCA-Faith winner, 10:30 a.m.
No. 4 Ohatchee vs. Pleasant Valley-JCA-Faith, noon
Semifinals, 3 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.
At Pete Mathews Coliseum
Championship, time TBD