E.A. Sports Today

Donoho falls in final

Resilient Lady Falcons fall to Meek in four sets of Class 1A title match, fourth finals trip in five years

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Donoho's Kayla Wallace reacts to the difficulty of getting to a ball during Thursday's Class 1A title match with Meek. (Photo by Kristen Stringer/Krisp Pics Photography)

Donoho’s Kayla Wallace reacts to the difficulty of getting to a ball during Thursday’s Class 1A title match with Meek. (Photo by Kristen Stringer/Krisp Pics Photography)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

BIRMINGHAM — They came in as underdogs — not just for the match, but the entire season — but they never played like it.

The Donoho Lady Falcons battled size and numbers all year, but they still came within one match of winning another volleyball state championship.

The “Super 8,” as they’ve come to be known, lost in the Class 1A final Thursday night 3-1 to a Meek team driven to claim the first state title in its school’s history.

The set scores at the cozy Bill Harris Arena of the Birmingham Crossplex were 25-22, 22-25, 25-22, 25-23 – and it was that tight.

Befitting the resiliency they had shown all season, the Lady Falcons (46-9) bounced back from losing the first set to tie the match. They came from behind to tie the third set as late as 22-22 and rallied from a 7-1 deficit early in the deciding set to take leads of 18-16 and 19-18.

They staved off two match points in the fourth before tournament MVP Morgan Hudson’s slam sealed the match.

“We’ve been in matches all year long where we had to dig down deep and where we had to come up with ways to stay together,” Slay said. “The focus on our team this year has always been ‘we before me.’ We have to play this together and it has to be a total team effort.

“Pushing the girls to have confidence in one another all the time and them pushing each other to do the same thing has worked well for us through most of the time this year and it was something that we kept pushing again tonight.”

It was the third time the teams have met this season. Meek (40-13) won in the finals of the Donoho Classic and Donoho won in the 1A North regional title match last Saturday.

Because of that loss, Meek coach Tara Branstetter had a “really good gut feeling” the Lady Tigers would win Thursday’s match.

In its super regional victory, Donoho smartly made its most hay when Hudson was stuck on the back row. The Lady Falcons took control of the set they won Thursday under similar circumstances, but when Hudson moved to the front she was a game-changing presence.

She finished with 19 kills and three blocks. She had the kill on four of Meek’s final five points.

Madison Gaines, Katie Brown and Kayla Wallace made the all-tournament team from Donoho.

Gaines had 18 kills in the championship match. Wallace scored 11 kills and 23 digs. Brown recorded 36 assists.

“I’m upset about (the outcome) because we wanted it so badly, but I’m so proud of us,” Gaines said. “No one ever thought we’d be here; we were definitely the underdogs for 1A the whole time, so it’s an accomplishment just to be here.

“Yes, it’s a loss in the record book, but we played our hearts out. I’m proud of the way we played.”

The Lady Falcons have won more 1A volleyball titles than anyone in the state. They were seeking their 11th Thursday night. They have been to the finals four of the last five years, but this team will be uniquely remembered.

“Every team is special in its own way,” Slay said. “This particular team will always be very special because it has been a team of kids who are not the prima donnas, there’s no one who is the standout, the one that is better than everybody else that we can say it all lands on her shoulders. It really truly always has always been about the eight … and what they contributed to each other and how they supported one another and how they worked together to accomplish something.

“And we’ve done some things this year that nobody would have expected us to do because of our size and our small numbers. This team definitely has a very special place for me. It will forever simply because of that.”

Donoho's Madison Gaines gets full extension to slam a ball across the net in Thursday's Class 1A championship volleyball match. (Photo by Kristen Stringer/Krisp Pics Photography)

Donoho’s Madison Gaines gets full extension to slam a ball across the net in Thursday’s Class 1A championship volleyball match. (Photo by Kristen Stringer/Krisp Pics Photography)

AHSAA VOLLEYBALL CHAMPIONSHIP MATCHES
Class 1A: Meek def. Donoho, 3-1 (25-22, 22-25, 25-22, 25-23)
Class 2A: Addison def. Providence Christian, 3-2 (25-20, 17-25, 19-25, 25-20, 15-11)
Class 3A: Bayside Academy def. Madison Academy, 3-0 (25-19, 25-16, 25-18)
Class 4A: Brooks def. St. James, 3-1 (2-522, 25-17, 22-25, 25-19)
Class 5A: Randolph def. Lawrence County, 3-1 (21-25, 25-10, 25-17, 25-13)
Class 6A: Spanish Fort def. John Carroll, 3-2 (25-20, 22-25, 25-21, 22-25, 15-11)
Class 7A: Mountain Brook def. McGill-Toolen, 3-2 (27-25, 25-23, 25-16)

Jacksonville's Aniyah Robinson holds her Class 4A All-Tournament team award. Robinson was one of only five players across seven classifications whose teams didn't play in a championship match to make an All-Tournament team.

Jacksonville’s Aniyah Robinson holds her Class 4A All-Tournament team award. Robinson was one of only five players across seven classifications whose teams didn’t play in a championship match to make an All-Tournament team.



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