E.A. Sports Today

PV stays perfect

Lady Raiders win their Sandy Hunter Invitational for first time, remain undefeated (17-0)

Cammy Cochran, one of two seniors on the undefeated Pleasant Valley volleyball team, cradles that trophy that went with winning Saturday's Sandy Hunter Invitational

Cammy Cochran, one of two seniors on the undefeated Pleasant Valley volleyball team, cradles that trophy that went with winning Saturday’s Sandy Hunter Invitational

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE — Cammy Cochran held the trophy lovingly in her arms. If anyone wants to see it, they’ll just have to wait until she comes back to school Monday morning.

“This is my baby,” she said with a big smile.

It certainly did represent something precious. Cochran and the Pleasant Valley volleyball team won their own Sandy Hunter Invitational for the first time Saturday when they beat defending champion Geraldine in three sets, 25-20, 22-25, 15-11, to remain undefeated.

But it’s not just that the 17-0 Lady Raiders are winning, it’s the way they’re doing it. They’re dominating people. When Geraldine (17-6) evened the championship match in the second set, it was only the second set of 39 they’ve played this season they’ve lost.

“These girls have learned how to play to win instead of playing not to lose,” PV coach Dana Bryant said. “There’s a big difference. To play not to lose means to play trying not to make mistakes. To play to win means you’re playing to conquer. You’re not focused on not making mistakes, you’re focused on making kills.”

The Lady Raiders certainly didn’t panic whenever things got tough Saturday. They fell behind twice in the first set of the title match, but battled back both times and ultimately won it by keeping several balls alive off the net and scoring five of the last six points. Even in the set they lost they stormed back from a late six-point deficit to get within 20-19. They opened a 14-6 lead in the clincher and then withstood a late Geraldine rally.

It was only the second time the Lady Raiders have played in the championship game of their own event. Geraldine was no easy assignment; all five of its previous losses have come against 6A competition.

PV reached the finals by beating Sylvania (25-14, 25-6), Boaz (25-21, 25-19), Westminster (25-13, 25-22) and Sacred Heart (25-22, 25-12). Geraldine defeated Saks, Faith Christian, Crossville and Donoho.

“We’ve been working hard to be able to stay on top,” Alisa St. John said. “We knew we were able to do it. Last year we were a little short, but I think we’re ready to go this year.”

The Lady Raiders’ chances got a big boost earlier this week with the return of Anna Bryant, the team’s veteran setter and coach’s daughter who sustained a serious head injury when she was struck by a foul ball during the softball season. She returned to competition for the first time in Thursday’s sweep of Sand Rock and White Plains and she played in all five matches Saturday with a .467 attack percentage and six aces — both team tournament bests — 28 total kills and 51 assists.

She’s “very thankful” to be back on the floor and does plan on playing softball this spring. But first a volleyball season holds her focus.

“Thursday I was knocking the rust off, but I think I got it back today,” she said.

Her recovery and return has as much to do with the way the Lady Raiders are playing as anything they’ve done on the floor.

“Seeing Anna go through what she went through helps the girls to appreciate the opportunities that they do have and to play even that much harder realizing that on any day that can be taken away,” Dana Bryant said.

“It is an influence,” St. John said. “To be able to go out on that court and be able to play and not taking anything for granted because you don’t know when your last day is that’s pushing us to play our hardest and not give up and know we can do anything if we set our mind to it.”

And that includes going undefeated for the entire season.

“I think our goal this year was just to mainly make it to the state tournament and try to win the state,” Cochran said. “But as we started playing we realized our goal has changed to beat every team we play and be the best at what we do.”

PV STAT LEADERS (Tournament) — Cammy Cochran: 31 kills, 34 digs, 8 blocks; Anna Bryant: 28 kills, 6 aces, 51 assists; Alisa St. John: 22 kills, 5 aces, 34 digs; Mikayla Kendrick: 14 kills, 9 blocks; Savannah Williams: 52 assists, 5 aces, 20 digs; Madi Bentley: 29 digs.

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