E.A. Sports Today

Setting the stage

[corner-ad id=2]County Tournament could be a tossup after Oxford beats Jacksonville, Alexandria, and Lady Cubs hand Jacksonville second loss of night

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

The Calhoun County Volleyball Tournament is still a month away, but if Tuesday night was any indication picking the winner in this year’s event will not be easy.

Oxford, Jacksonville and Alexandria, three of the contenders every year in the County Tournament, got together for an early-season tri-match that had all the intensity and drama of a post-season tournament.

Oxford got the best of it, beating both of the others in three sets, but the biggest shocker of the night might have been longtime county favorite Jacksonville falling twice.

The Yellow Jackets beat Alexandria in the night’s first match 25-18, 19-25, 15-6, then came right back and beat Jacksonville — the team that took them out in last year’s County Tournament final – 23-25, 25-22, 15-13.

In the final match of the night, Alexandria beat Jacksonville in three sets, 25-22, 18-25, 15-11. As best as coach Whitney Welch could recall, it has been “eight or 10 years” since the Lady Cubs beat Jacksonville on the volleyball court.

“It’ll be a fun tournament,” Welch said. “We’ll see what happens.”

And Tuesday’s matches didn’t even bring into the mix the upwards of five other teams that figure to be in the picture. Oxford coach Wendy McKibbin believes Calhoun one of the strongest volleyball counties across all classifications in the state and beating the Golden Eagles Tuesday gives them the confidence they can play with anybody.

“There are several teams that have an opportunity,” Jacksonville coach David Clark said. “I don’t think there’s a dominant team in our county. I felt that way coming in.

“We’ve been the ones with the target and we still are and that’s what I tried to explain to them here. We’ve got to understand this has got to mean as much to us winning as it does to them trying to beat us one time and we have not reached that point yet.

“I think there are several good teams, so it’s going to be a battle. It’s going to be a war and I’m glad it is. It shows growth in our county because over the last few years, honestly, there have been times when it’s really a one- or two-team race and it hasn’t shown well for our county. I’d like to see us getting back to more stronger teams in our county because that’s what made the county tournament what it is to begin with.”

The Golden Eagles have won eight of the last 11 Calhoun County Tournament titles. They beat Oxford for four of them, Alexandria for two others.

But they’ll have to be a lot better than they were Tuesday if they want to add to that record. The Golden Eagles lost 10 matches all last year on their way to the Class 4A state finals. They already have lost four matches this season.

“We just don’t know how to win yet,” Clark said. “We had opportunities to win the games and didn’t do it in either one and that’s part of new faces, part of understanding the team a little bit better than we do right now.

“We made mistakes at the worst times and that’s just part of learning. It’s going to be bumpy. There are times we look pretty good and there are times we’re not very good at all. You really can’t swing that far. It’s about being consistent. We’re getting to 20 pretty good and not finishing well; we’re getting to 10 in the third game and not finishing the last five. They’ll work. It’ll take time.

“We’ve got to learn how to win and hopefully we’ll get there before we get to area play.”

Oxford has learned the secret and Alexandria made a move in that direction at Jacksonville’s expense.

In their match with Alexandria, the Jackets (6-3) scored the final five points to win the first set and took control of the decisive third set with an 8-2 start.

In their Jacksonville match, they made most of their hay when Golden Eagles front-row star Sierra Stone was off the floor. They outscored them 12-5 with Stone out in the first set and 7-3 early in the second. They pulled away from a tight third set late with five straight points out of JoJo Skinner’s serve.

Winter Taylor had 15 kills in the two matches, seven against Jacksonville. Nyia Archie had 11 total kills. Chloe Stone had 47 assists total.

“The biggest thing in volleyball is it’s a game of mistakes and you’ve got to take care of the ball on your side,” she said. “We struggled a little bit in the Hoover tournament with that, but we came back yesterday and practiced on two of the things we needed to work on – serving and serve receive – and it played a part today.”

Alexandria fell behind 10-2 in its first set with Jacksonville, but scored the final three points to win it. The Golden Eagles won the second set by breaking away from the ninth tie with the final seven points. The Cubs (5-4) had control of the third set from the start, opening a 7-3 lead and then pulling away after Jacksonville (5-4) closed to within 10-8.

Savannah Beck had seven kills, eight assists and four digs in the Jacksonville match, 14 kills and 14 assists for the night. Gracie Muncher had 10 assists and six digs against the Golden Eagles, 19 assists and 12 digs in the two matches.

“I think it’s a big deal to beat them,” Taylor said of beating the Golden Eagles. “They go so far in the state and if we can stick with them, I think we can stick with anyone. This felt like a county championship.”

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