By Shannon Fagan, WEIS Sports Director
BIRMINGHAM – The standard in Class 1A volleyball is the Addison Lady Bulldogs. It’s a standard that Spring Garden coach Ricky Austin aspires to become.
But the Lady Panthers aren’t quite there yet.
Spring Garden’s season ended against the two-time defending state champions in three sets in the Class 1A Final Four Tuesday at the Birmingham CrossPlex. The scores were 19-25, 18-25 and 13-25.
Addison (45-10) advances to Wednesday’s state title match against Covenant Christian at 12:30 p.m. at Bill Harris Arena in Birmingham. Spring Garden’s season ends at 41-15.
“They’re as good as anybody down here in any class. They’re as good as anybody I’ve ever played. I put a lot on that statement,” Austin said. “I’m proud of how we played them much better this time than we did in regionals (last week).
“I thought we were a little scared of them, intimidated by them, and we had a right to be in a sense. They’ve got seven seniors. They’ve been here and done all that. I had two girls who had ever stepped on the floor at regionals, much less stepping on the floor down here.”
Addison jumped out to the early leads in each of the three sets. Even though Spring Garden managed to make some mini rallies, they could never quite catch the Lady Bulldogs.
Outside hitter Dacey Baker led the Lady Bulldogs with 11 kills and four digs. Middle blocker Katie Barrett added seven kills, five aces, four digs and two blocks. Middle blocker Abby Waldrep contributed nine kills and a block. Libero Bailee Ory posted 13 digs. Setter Gracie Manley managed 37 assists, two digs, a kill, a block and an ace.
Outside hitter Ace Austin led the Lady Panthers with 13 kills, six assists and a block. Middle hitter Chloe Rule contributed seven kills and a block. Outside hitter Maggie Jarrett collected three kills, three assists and a block. Outside hitter Aubrey Sadler delivered two blocks and a kill. Libero Layla Ingram earned five assists. Middle hitter Raylee Rice had two blocks, and setter Avery Steward finished with 21 assists.
Coach Austin believes the Lady Panthers’ upside is good. They lose just two seniors in Sadler and defensive specialist Timmi Scogin.
“I had a fun year with them (the team),” he said. “I saw growth and some challenges laid out in front of them. They rose to the occasion today. Addison is just that much better right now. I think we went as far as we could go.
“We’re going to build off of this. There’s no moral victory at all about playing them better this time. They set the standard in 1A or whatever class they fall in. They always set the standard. I don’t want to chase that standard. I want to be the standard. That’s what we talked about (after the match). We’re such a young group. It’s got to burn in your gut. It’s got to churn. It’s starting to be who you’re playing and how bad you want to be them, not just taking another step. Addison is good and you’ve got to have something special to beat them.”
NOTE: The Lady Panthers were glad to see a familiar face among their fans in the stands on Tuesday.
Lady Panther volleyball assistant coach/head softball coach Ann Welsh, who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer, was at the Birmingham CrossPlex cheering on the team. She made her breast cancer announcement to the volleyball team earlier this month and recently had a successful procedure.
Before the Lady Panthers’ postseason run to the Final Four began, Welsh told the Lady Panthers she planned on meeting the team in Birmingham at the state volleyball tournament.
“I know most of the girls hadn’t seen her since she walked off the court that day,” Coach Austin said. “We made the deal when she told the girls ‘My plans are to meet y’all in Birmingham in three weeks.’ (Assistant coach) Stephanie (Steward) got a text message from her last night that said ‘My plans are to be there’ but she couldn’t sit on the bench with us.
“Her deal is not over right now and our deal is not over right now with as many girls as we’ve got coming back. We’re going to keep pushing each other, leaning on each other and praying for each other. It sure was great seeing her down here smiling today. She had some great words to the kids and the kids were really glad to see her.”