E.A. Sports Today

Golden Eagles down, but not out

Jacksonville falls in North Super Regional final; report has Slay leaving at Donoho

Jacksonville's volleyball team huddles after losing to Danville in the 4A North Super Regional final.

Jacksonville’s volleyball team huddles after losing to Danville in the 4A North Super Regional final.

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

HUNTSVILLE – The disappointment was etched on each of the Jacksonville volleyball players’ faces, but the emotion some were fighting back was tempered by the knowledge their journey isn’t over.

The Golden Eagles came to the Von Braun Center this weekend looking to claim the No. 1 seeding out of the North Super Regional. Instead, they fell a few points short, losing to top-ranked Danville 3-2 in the Class 4A final.

They lost the tiebreaker 15-8 after splitting the first four sets 25-18, 12-25, 12-25, 25-20. It sends them to play UMS-Wright, the No. 3 seed from the South, in the Elite 8 at Birmingham’s Crossplex Wednesday at 11 a.m.

“Of course we’re disappointed that we lost; we really wanted that,” senior setter Ashley Clingan said. “But in the end it’s all about state and we’re really excited (about that). I hope that we play better at state; that’s what we’re shooting for. … We’re looking forward to next week.”

“Everything for us and all the dreams these kids have are still in play,” Jacksonville coach David Clark said.

The third-ranked Golden Eagles (37-8) will have to be better in their communication, crisper with their passing and stronger in the serve-receive game to repeat as state champions.

The first and fourth sets against Danville showed their potential to control a match, but the middle two – the first games they’ve lost in the postseason — exposed some flaws sure to get their attention in the days leading to Birmingham. They never led in the tiebreaker, but got as close as 8-7 before the Hawks (48-11) scored the seven of the last eight points of the match.

“I think we stopped communicating, which caused lots of problems with our passing, and everything as a whole we just kind of shut down,” Clingan said. “But I really liked our response in Game 4 when we came back out after getting beat so bad the middle two games.”

Jacksonville reached the Super Regional finals by taking out Priceville 3-0 and Brooks 3-0. Blessing Dunn had 51 kills in the three matches, 20 against Danville. Clingan had 95 assists. Tamaria Mayes had 13 kills and 14 blocks against Priceville, seven kills and six blocks against Danville.

The three other Calhoun County teams who reached Saturday’s round lost in their first matches to end their seasons. Oxford lost to Hartselle 3-0 in 6A, Sacred Heart lost to Decatur Heritage 3-0 in 1A, and Donoho lost to Athens Bible 3-2 in 1A.

Shortly after Donoho’s loss, Jimmy Slay, the son of Falcons coach Janice Slay posted on his Twitter account “mom’s coaching career is over” after six seasons at the school.

Janice Slay couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Saturday. Donoho athletics director Shannon Felder said he spoke briefly with Slay when the team returned to school but said she never mentioned anything about leaving. He said it was his understanding the last time they had an extended conversation she planned to return.

Team sources told East Alabama Sports Today Slay has not said anything to her players about stepping down.

In Slay’s three previous seasons her team won two state titles and was last year’s runner-up. This is the first year since 2008 the Falcons have not made it to Birmingham.

Clark said he hadn’t heard anything of Slay’s reported departure and he’d be dismayed if she were to leave because “she makes volleyball in the state stronger.”

Slay declined to meet with reporters after her team lost to Athens Bible, a team it beat in the Donoho Classic a couple weeks ago, but shared tearful hugs with each of her players before leaving the facility.

All five games in the match were tight. The Falcons led 1-0 and 2-1 after winning games 25-23 and 25-22. They held several leads early in the tiebreaker. They fell behind 13-9 and fought back to 13-12 before losing the final two points.

Madison Gaines had 17 kills, two aces, eight digs and two blocks in the match. Jordan Ray had nine kills, three aces, 15 assists and 25 digs. Katie Brown had 18 assists and 16 digs. Anna Marie Woodfin had 29 digs. Hannah Christian had seven kills and two blocks.

Social media reports from the family Saturday indicate Donoho coach Janice Slay is ending her coaching career.

Social media reports from the family Saturday indicate Donoho coach Janice Slay is ending her coaching career.

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