Volleyball continues to grow in Northwest Georgia, and several local teams have only had about three years of experience. It’s hard to judge by the state playoffs though as several local teams made runs into the playoffs.

Two teams, Sonoraville and Darlington, both reached the final six in their classifications in the fall cementing their spots among the state’s elite volleyball programs.

Teams can’t have great seasons without great players, and both the Phoenix and the Tigers had plenty of them. But each squad has one player who stood out.

Those two players, Sonoraville’s Kristi Vaughn and Darlington’s Sam Harton, are the 2013 Rome News-Tribune Volleyball All-Area Players of the Year.

The Phoenix have proven to be one of the top Class 3-A teams in the state, advancing to the final six both this year and last, and Vaughn is one of several Phoenix players leading the charge.

“Kristi is a floor general and team leader on and off the court. She is 100 percent hustle with tremendous court awareness, great hands and a strong arm. Her work ethic sets her apart from her peers,” Sonoraville coach Trace Vaughn said.

Darlington had a bit of a transition year in 2013 with a new coach and a new system, but Harton proved to be a key leader for the Tigers who won two big tournaments, Battle of the Counties and At the Rock, along with making a deep run in the super-tough Class A playoffs.

Harton, a senior libero, had one of the toughest serves to return in the area compiling 116 aces over the course of the season. She also had 92 kills, but it was her work on the floor that might have been the key for the Tigers, recording 430 digs. In other words, Harton suffered plenty of floor burns and became a defender no attacker ever wanted on the receiving end of a kill attempt.

Vaughn, much like Harton, proved key to Sonoraville. Her statistics are eye-popping, serving up 142 aces on the season along with 162 kills, but her worth could probably be measured more in how she helped defend and set her teammates up on the attack.

Vaughn recorded 327 digs and 768 assists. The senior ends her volleyball career at Sonoraville holding 12 school records and was named the Region 4-AAA MVP and was a member of the Class AAA All-State team.

Perhaps nothing shows Vaughn’s capacity for helping turn a match around than her performance in the second round of the state playoffs against Oconee County. Down one set and trailing in the second, the Phoenix’s season appeared to be on the brink.

Vaughn and her teammates didn’t worry. They swept back to win the second set and the next two to close out the win. During the game, Vaughn had 45 assists, 26 digs, three kills, two blocks and went 17 for 17 on serves.