E.A. Sports Today

It’s Jacksonville, again

UPDATED: Golden Eagles beat top-seeded Oxford in three sets to win county volleyball crown

Jacksonville's play at the net was key to it winning another County Volleyball Tournament title Saturday. In the cover photo, the Golden Eagles rush the floor after beating Oxford in three sets.

Jacksonville’s play at the net was key to it winning another County Volleyball Tournament title Saturday. In the cover photo, the Golden Eagles rush the floor after beating Oxford in three sets.

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE — When David Clark first took over the Jacksonville volleyball program, his greatest hope was the Golden Eagles could just make it to the finals of the County Tournament.

Now, it’s almost unheard of a tournament final doesn’t have the Golden Eagles in it and they usually wind up winning it.

The highly motivated Golden Eagles won it again Saturday, beating top-seeded Oxford in straight sets 25-19, 25-20, 26-24.

It was their ninth County Tournament title — all since 2000 — and eighth in the last 10 years. It was their tenth straight appearance in the tournament title match. The last time they weren’t in the final, Facebook was just becoming the next big thing.

“It’s a big pride thing for me and for the kids,” Clark said. “I tell them this mimics the way you kind of get through the state tournament, especially the super-regional, because every game is an elimination game and that’s a big deal. When you can handle those, it gives us a good dry run for that.

“Over the last 10 years I’ve just been really blessed we’ve been able to win it as many times and be there at the end — even if we didn’t win it, we’ve been in the finals. I can’t remember really the last time we weren’t.

“And it’s a big deal because this county’s reputation volleyball-wise has been tremendous. If you can win this tournament, you’ve got a chance to do some things.”

Jacksonville’s Blessing Dunn was named Most Valuable Player for being what Clark called “the best player all day in the tournament.” Teammate Ashley Clingan was the outstanding offensive player and Oxford’s Alex Cheatwood was the top defensive player. The rest of the all-tournament team is listed below.

Dunn had 14 kills and 10 digs in the championship match. Clingan had 35 assists.

The title match was as close as the seedings suggested. The first set was tied three times early, the second set was tied seven times and the third set nine times.

The Golden Eagles (24-5), who lost only one set in their three matches (and had a walkover in the first round), were motivated more by things other than their No. 2 seeding. They wanted to play well in their own gym – even though they were the scoreboard “visitors” in the title match — and they wanted to make amends for a bad loss to the Yellow Jackets (30-7) earlier in the season when, as Dunn said, “we weren’t fully on our game that day.”

That was particularly evident at the end of the third set when they won the final four points to complete the sweep. Dunn’s point off a block put the Golden Eagles ahead 25-24 and Mallory Patterson’s spike at the net put it away.

“We were motivated,” Dunn said. “This is our home gym; you don’t lose at home. We were motivated to win in our house.

“We had adrenaline and we were going to finish the game; we didn’t want to go into another game. We played some tough teams today, teams that were just scrappy and that kind of wore us out and I know we didn’t want to go to another game.”

The blocks are always key to any success the Golden Eagles enjoy, and there were plentiful in the final match. Sierra Stone and Tamaria Mays had seven each. Patterson had four to go with 12 kills.

Oxford was led in the championship match by all-tournament picks Cheatwood (8 digs), Breanna Nolan (8 kills, 8 digs) and Morgan Whaley (23 assists, 5 digs). The Yellow Jackets did not lose a set until the finals, sweeping past Ohatchee and Saks.

“I thought we played well today … better than we have in a while,” Oxford coach Wendy McKibbin said. “Every time we play Jacksonville it’s always a competitive match. David does a great job; he has a good group of kids. They had a couple runs off a point today that changed the momentum of a couple of the games. They were the better team today.”

Kaitlyn Brown, Alexandria
Tori Rae Stillwell, Alexandria
Jordan Ray, Donoho
Blessing Dunn, Jacksonville
Ashley Clingan, Jacksonville
Tamaria Mays, Jacksonville
Mallory Patterson, Jacksonville
Joria Steger, Ohatchee
Alex Cheatwood, Oxford
Breanna Nolan, Oxford
Morgan Whaley, Oxford
Abby Hedgepath, Pleasant Valley
Tiffany Springer, Saks
D’Talya Lewis, Saks
Haley Helms, White Plains

Top Offensive Player — Ashley Clingan, Jacksonville
Top Defensive Player — Alex Cheatwood, Oxford
Most Valuable Player — Blessing Dunn, Jacksonville

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