E.A. Sports Today

You gotta have heart to be No. 1

Sacred Heart volleyball flying high with school’s first-ever No. 1 ranking

Sacred Heart's Olivia Simmons (21) goes high to get one of her five blocks in the Cardinals' sweep Thursday.

Sacred Heart’s Olivia Simmons (21) goes high to get one of her five blocks in the Cardinals’ sweep Thursday.

“I ran down the hallway screaming. I was banging on the door. I was hooting and hollering. It was a great feeling.”

–Kristen Rothwell’s reaction to her Cardinals being voted No. 1.

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

The balance of power in all the state of Class 1A volleyball rests squarely along a two-mile stretch of road in East Anniston, and the biggest hammer currently belongs to the smallest school.

Sacred Heart has never been No. 1 in anything in its relatively short athletics life in the AHSAA, but for the second week in a row the Cardinals held that position over a familiar and nearby rival – Donoho.

The Cardinals wrestled the top spot away from the preseason No. 1 Falcons last week and the news hit the school with such a tremor it set off alarms throughout the parish.

“I was the first one to find out,” senior left hitter Kristen Rothwell said between matches in the Cardinals’ sweep of Ranburne and No. 5 Spring Garden Thursday night. “My mom had actually texted me. I wasn’t supposed to have my phone, but I checked it during class and had like a mini-heart attack.

“I was like, ‘Can I go tell coach (Robin) Coplin something’ and the teacher was like, ‘Yeah.’ I ran down the hallway screaming. I was banging on the door. People thought an intruder was in the school because I was trying to get in the classroom. I was screaming. I was hooting and hollering. It was a great feeling.”

The Cardinals, now 13-7 with their two-match sweep, have always existed in Donoho’s shadow and to some degree, Coplin said “feared them” in the past. But, she said, “this is the first group I think ever that’s not been scared of them.”

The first test of that comes Thursday when the two teams play at Sacred Heart. The Cardinals don’t play again until then.

“Two years ago we were 3 and Donoho was 1 and we had to battle out and stuff, but we would tend to crash faster than this team does,” Rothwell said. “Any time we played anybody it was who we were playing, like the name instead of the actual skills. This (team) doesn’t look as much at the name.”

That was evident Thursday night. They lost the first game against Ranburne — and didn’t look good doing it — and trailed in the first game against Spring Garden but bounced back to win both matches.

Donoho coach Janice Slay agreed it is “kind of neat” the way the 1A rankings have worked their way into East Alabama — “Robin and I certainly need to guard that well,” she said — but the Falcons aren’t happy with the current pecking order.

“Our kids are very jealous of that,” Slay said. “They don’t like being No. 2 to anybody in our area. We’ve been No. 2 to (now 2A) Addison for the last couple years … but we’re not used to being No. 2 to anybody that’s local or anybody else pretty much around the state. So, that gives them something to shoot for and, of course, it gives Sacred Heart something to want to stay on top with because that’s got to be epic for them.

“I’m not really upset about that … because we need a little kick in the britches.”

Al Muskewitz is Content Editor/Senior Writer of East Alabama Sports Today. To comment on this story or pitch a story idea, contact him at musky@wrightmediacorp.com and follow him on Twitter @easportstoday1.

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