GAYLESVILLE – The Sand Rock Lady Wildcats are veterans at winning Cherokee County volleyball tournament titles, but this year’s team is one of the youngest head coach Lisa Bates has had since she began coaching them.
It didn’t matter on Saturday at Gaylesville.
The Lady Wildcats won all three of their matches, including outlasting Spring Garden in three sets to reach the championship against Cherokee County. Sand Rock defeated the Lady Warriors twice, including 25-21 and 25-16 in the championship for their 11th county title overall and sixth in the past seven seasons.
“These girls have worked hard,” Bates said. “With us losing the three (players) we lost last year, for these girls to step it up, there’s girls who didn’t have to hardly play in the county tournament last year. They had to be the contributors this year. We’ve had some girls really step it up and work hard in the off-season. I’m proud they’re seeing the results of that.”
Sand Rock (20-5) began the day with a 25-23, 25-15 win over Cherokee County to advance and face Spring Garden with a berth to the championship match on the line. Spring Garden took the first set 25-19, but the Lady Wildcats rallied in the next two sets, particularly the third. They won the second 25-22 and outlasted the Lady Panthers 19-17 in the third.
“I thought they made some errors late in that third set they don’t usually make. They had a couple of missed serves they don’t usually have, and it kind of gave us some hope,” Bates said of the Spring Garden match. “We were down 14-11 (in the third set) and had to spark back to win. That ended up being a pretty huge match to keep us in the winners bracket. I’m glad we battled through that, fought through and finished that one off. That was crucial.”
Cherokee County rebounded from its first match loss to Sand Rock with a 25-13, 25-14 win over Gaylesville, then held off Cedar Bluff 25-22, 25-21 to face Spring Garden.
The Lady Warriors won the first set 25-15, but then lost 25-20 to force a decisive third set. Cherokee County held on for a 15-12 victory in the third to advance to a second meeting with Sand Rock in the finals.
It was the third time in a week the two teams played each other. Sand Rock won on Monday 25-20, 25-20, 25-10.
“We went back and watched the film (from Monday),” Cherokee County coach Tiffany Rieger said. “I think that’s why we were so disappointed this morning (in the first match). We told them who they’re going to serve to, what shots each kid is going to hit. We switched our defense up to kind of match that, but we didn’t execute. That’s what we’ve got to work on. We’ve got great plans. We have great offensive plays. We’ve just got to be able to execute on them. We did that at times today, then we had letdowns at other times. Being more consistent is our issue right now.”
The Lady Warriors were a little more consistent in the championship match with Sand Rock, but the Lady Wildcats still managed to prevail.
“I told the girls at the end of the day to be proud of that (runner-up). Be proud of the improvement we’ve had. We were passing better. We ran some plays, but we don’t want to be second come the end of the year. That’s what we’re pushing toward.”
Consistency is also a word Bates has used with her Lady Wildcats a few times this season as well.
“Today I never felt like we were too down in a hole or too off. We had some times where we made a few mistakes in a row but we got over it fast. I thought we were pretty consistent today,” Bates said.
Katelyn StClair led Sand Rock with 29 kills, 32 digs and six aces for the day. Jadyn Foster tallied 29 kills, 31 digs. Rylin StClair added 79 assists. Chloe Stephens posted 40 digs. Jacey Stephens contributed17 kills and a pair of blocks. Zoey Handy had 13 kills and four blocks. Bethany Davis finished with 26 digs and two aces.
Ella Garmany collected 31 kills, 32 digs, seven aces and six assists for the day for Cherokee County. Nevaeh Gaidurgis came away with 27 kills, nine digs and two blocks. Vivian Connell contributed 10 kills, one assist and a block. Raegan Garmany posted eight kills, two digs, two blocks and three assists. Libby Curry delivered seven kills, 15 digs, three aces and an assist.
Macy Lea had three kills, 11 digs, 73 assists and two aces. Ellisan Givens accumulated 42 digs, one ace and two assists. Karlee Jolly tallied 32 digs and two assists. Emilee Paul managed three assists, nine digs and two kills. Aubrey Abernathy added four aces. Leila Jo Connell had four digs and an assist. Ava Haygood finished with a kill, two digs and an ace.