By Josh Bean, For the AHSAA
BIRMINGHAM – Spring Garden won its first state volleyball championship since 2007 with its triumph over University Charter School 25-12, 26-24, 25-12 Thursday to win the Class 1A championship at the AHSAA Elite 8 State Volleyball Championships at Bill Harris Arena.
Tournament MVP Ace Austin smashed 26 kills and added 14 digs to lead the Panthers (54-5), and setter Avery Steward dished out 40 assists. Chloe Rule also had 10 kills, Steward had 13 digs, Maggie Jarrett had five kills and 16 digs, and Layla Ingram had a match-high 22digs.
“This is a great day,” Spring Garden Coach Ricky Austin said. “Yesterday was a great day, being able to beat Addison, and (now) to take the next step in our program. This is an unbelievable group,” Austin continued. “I’m just glad my path crossed with their path. I’m along for the ride.”
The Trailblazers (35-5) became the first team from a charter school in any sport to play for an AHSAA state championship.
“This team battled all season and showed a lot of resilience,” UCS coach Stephanie Gaither said. “I could not be more proud.”
Spring Garden dominated the first set, but the Trailblazers bounced back and built a 24-21 lead in the second set. The Panthers then reeled off five straight points to win the second set 26-24 and seize the match’s momentum.
“No shortcuts are taken at Spring Garden,” Ace Austin said.
For the Trailblazers, Ella Grace Larkin led the way with eight kills and 10 digs, while Maddy Gullahorn added six kills and six digs, Brinkli Wood had four kills and nine digs, and Ava LaCoste contributed 18 digs. Setter Emory Pezent had 14 assists.
Spring Garden’s girls’ basketball team won the 2023 Class 1A state title with Austin as the coach and his daughter Ace earning state tourney MVP.
The coach said his team would take a little time off.
“Basketball starts next week,” Ricky Austin said.
Class 1A All-Tournament Team
Ace Austin, Spring Garden (MVP); Chloe Rule, Spring Garden; Layla Ingram, Spring Garden; Avery Steward, Spring Garden; Ella Grace Larkin, University Charter School; Ava LaCoste, University Charter School.