E.A. Sports Today

Familiar finalist

Pleasant Valley reaches County Tournament finals for third straight year; could third year be the charm for an elusive title?

Anna Bryant goes low to keep the ball alive in Pleasant Valley’s semifinal win over Oxford. (Photo by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

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By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE – It’s pretty safe to say the Pleasant Valley volleyball team knows its way around Jacksonville State’s coliseum by now. The Lady Raiders are the only team to have played in the Calhoun County Volleyball Tournament final every year since the match moved there as the first high school event in the refurbished gym in 2015.

The Lady Raiders are back in the final again – for the third year in a row – and this time they’d really like to finish the job.

Top-seeded PV punched its ticket to Monday’s 7:30 p.m. title match with two wins Saturday at Jacksonville High School – a 3-1 win over Weaver and a 3-0 sweep of No. 4 Oxford in the semifinals. The Lady Raiders (36-3) will play second-seeded Alexandria (25-5) for the title.

To see more pictures from the match, visit www.bjfranklin.smugmug.com

“It’s exciting to be back and having the opportunity to play in the finals again,” PV coach Dana Bryant said. “Past that, we’ve got to show up.”

The Lady Raiders were competitive in each of the previous two appearances, but both times they’ve watched the opposition raise the champions’ trophy when it was over. Oxford beat them in 2015 and Jacksonville beat them in 2016; both matches went five sets.

They had the lead last year after winning sets 1 and 3 and have been driven this year to get back and make amends.

“We wanted to get back here so we could have our chance,” Alisa St. John said. “We’re just trying to work really hard and work together.”

As the No. 1 seed, the Lady Raiders were a heavy favorite to reach the finals – and the EA Sports Today pre-tournament fan poll’s pick to win it all – but the day didn’t start well for them. They drew a bye into the third round then proceeded to drop the first set of their first match against Weaver.

But they got mad and regrouped and won their next six sets in a row. They took control of the match with Weaver by winning the next two sets 25-10, 25-6. They are now 19-1 against in-county competition, including a second win over Alexandria on Tuesday..

“It kind of made me a little mad and I knew I had to push because we all knew that we couldn’t lose that first game because we were expected to be in the finals Monday,” Blakely Malsy said. “We’re really excited (to reach the finals) because at the beginning of the season that’s what we were supposed to do. We knew our county’s real strong and if we could just win our county then we would be good.”

The Lady Raiders used 9-0 runs in each of the first two sets to take control of their semifinal with Oxford. They scored eight straight points with Malsy serving to open an 18-6 lead in the first set, then scored eight straight with Alisa St. John serving to open a 17-9 lead in the second. They had an 18-11 lead in the third set when Oxford rallied to get within one and actually was serving with a 23-22 lead before PV closed it out.

“We recovered,” Bryant said. “They were extremely upset after that first game because we did not play well. Not to take anything away from Weaver, they did a very good job, but we did not play at all like we can play. But then they came back and recovered, which was a good thing.”

It may not have been the prettiest road to the finals, but nearly everybody on the roster contributed for Pleasant Valley.

JSU libero commitment Anna Bryant had 31 kills, 27 assists and 16 digs in the two matches, throwing herself into the tournament MVP conversation, which would be a great story considering two springs ago a serious accident on the softball field left her in jeopardy of enjoying life in general let alone athletics. Malsy had 13 kills and seven aces in the two matches. St. John had 18 kills, 19 digs and six blocks. Mikayla Kendrick had 19 kills and 12 digs.

If there’s one thing the Lady Raiders learned from their experience in the last two finals it’s to keep things simple, stay loose and stick to the routine.

“Last year we lost in the fifth set so we know this year we’ll have to push and not let that happen,” Malsy said. “We’re just really trying to come out with a first-place trophy instead of a second-place like the last two years. I’m tired of second place.”

(22-25, 25-10, 25-6, 25-17)

(25-11 25-17, 25-23)

(2-match combined statistics)
KILLS – Mikayla Kendrick 19, Blakely Malsy 13, Savannah Williams 7, Anna Bryant 31, Rylee Haynes 1, Alisa St. John 18.
ASSISTS – Savannah Williams 26, Anna Bryant 27, Rylee Haynes 3, Madison Bentley 1, Alisa St. John 2.
ACES – Mikayla Kendrick 2, Blakely Malsy 7, Savannah Williams 3, Anna Bryant 1, Madison Bentley 6, Alisa St. John 1.
DIGS – Mikayla Kendrick 12, Blakely Malsy 7, Savannah Williams 8, Anna Bryant 16, Rylee Haynes 6, Madison Bentley 30, Maggie Hedgepath 10, Alisa St. John 19.
BLOCKS – Mikayla Kendrick 4, Blakely Malsy 3, Anna Bryant 4, Alisa St. John 6.

PV’s Savannah Williams (10) and Alisa St. John go high at the net to block a play by Oxford’s Kiersten Woods. (Photo by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

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