E.A. Sports Today

On to the final

Jacksonville earns return trip to state title match after beating St. James 3-0; plays Danville for crown

Jacksonville coach David Clark returns to the bench as his players rush to salute their fans after advancing to the Class 4A state championship match.

Jacksonville coach David Clark returns to the bench as his players rush to salute their fans after advancing to the Class 4A state championship match.

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

BIRMINGHAM — David Clark said in the morning his Jacksonville volleyball team had to play much better in the afternoon if it wanted to reach the Class 4A state championship game.

They did and they are.

The Golden Eagles earned the right to defend their state crown with a 3-0 victory over St. James in the Class 4A semifinals Wednesday at the Birmingham Crossplex. The game scores were 26-24, 25-10, 25-22.

They play Danville (50-11) for another title at 6 p.m. Thursday in the final match of the tournament. Danville beat the Golden Eagles in five games in the North Super Regional final Saturday in Huntsville.

“This is what we’ve worked for all year and we finally made it,” middle hitter Tamaria Mays said. “We’ve got to finish.”

The semifinals win came on the heels of a 3-0 victory over UMS-Wright in a match Clark and the players said they weren’t very sharp, nervous even. As soon as Clark saw Blessing Dunn break into a smile in the pre-game warm-ups for St. James, he knew everything was going to be OK.

“When they came back they had smiles on their faces,” Clark said. “This morning we just seemed so serious. You want to be serious, but this group I have now they need to have fun. When they relax and you see them smiling out there and they’re a little silly before we play, I know we’re in good shape.

“We didn’t have any of that this morning. We were real serious about what we were doing and we couldn’t let ourselves just play. When we went over to warm up and when we started serving I could just tell they were just different; they were just more relaxed, happier.

“We started cutting up with a few of them just to get them relaxed. As soon as Blessing started smiling and relaxing, it helps everybody. We want to have fun. If you’ve not having fun, you’re not going to be very good anyway.”

Mays said their play against the Trojans was “100 times better” than it was in the morning.

The Golden Eagles (40-9) had to be relaxed to hold up through a hard-fought first game. It had seven lead changes and 17 ties before Darrien Martin put it away with a slam.

The outcome seemed to drain St. James (27-15) and lift the Golden Eagles. They broke out to a 16-0 lead in Game 2.

“If we hadn’t won the first game it might have hurt us more confidence-wise,” Clark said. “We didn’t play that bad — they played really well — but I think winning it really hurt them. I think they played about the top of their game and … they couldn’t get the game won. I think they were still recovering in Game 2.”

Just as impressive — and ultimately more important — as the way they started Game 2 was the way they finished the clinching game. They fell behind 17-9 and instead of rolling over or worrying about the score rallied to score 15 of the next 17 points to open a 24-19 lead.

“The second set gave us a lot of confidence,” Ashley Clingan said. “But I’m more proud of us coming from behind. We could’ve very easily just laid down in that last set and gone to a fourth or fifth game, but I’m really proud of the way we finished.”

The key to the victory was Jacksonville’s play at the net. Whenever the Golden Eagles needed points, they went through Dunn or the towers up front. Most of the points in the Game 2 start came from slams or blocks. Mays had 10 blocks to go with her 12 kills, but there were plenty of others among Sierra Stone and Mallory Patterson. Dunn had 19 kills. Martin had eight kills and nine digs. Clingan had 33 assists.

“That’s been a different maker in all of our games this year,” Mays said of the play up front.

The Golden Eagles will need it to be Thursday. Danville is led by 6-1 Sydni Shelton, who had 29 kills in the Hawks’ semifinal win over Deshler. Shelton, Kellee Stiles and Charlee Anderson combined for 52 digs in the four-game match. Anderson had 46 assists.

“If we block well, that will help our effort a lot,” Clark said.

Volleyball State Finals
At CrossPlex, Birmingham

(All matches Court 4)

Class 1A: Athens Bible (31-17) vs. Meek (28-21), 3 p.m.
Class 2A: Providence Christian (58-1) vs. Addison (57-2), 10:30 a.m.
Class 3A: Bayside Academy (43-9) vs. Madison Academy (50-11), 4:30 p.m.
Class 4A: Jacksonville (40-9) vs. Danville (50-11), 6 p.m.
Class 5A: St. Paul’s (37-13) vs. Guntersville (37-29), 9 a.m.
Class 6A: John Carroll (39-8) vs. Pelham (41-16), 1:30 p.m.
Class 7A: Hoover (38-8) vs. Mountain Brook (48-10), noon

You must be logged in to post a comment Login