E.A. Sports Today

For Golden Eagles, the beat goes on

Jacksonville tops White Plains for its 15th straight area tournament title; Lady Wildcats qualify for regional

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE – When the Jacksonville volleyball team takes the floor at this time of year the Golden Eagles are playing more than just the team on the other side of the net. They’re playing history, and she can be an even more unforgiving opponent.

The Golden Eagles won their 15th straight area championship Monday night, bouncing back from a tense start to beat Hokes Bluff 3-1 to qualify for the regionals and then finishing strong in a 3-0 sweep of White Plains for the title.

They beat Hokes Bluff 23-25, 25-13, 25-23, 25-11 and took out White Plains 25-18, 25-14, 25-12. The last time they failed to advance from the area tournament was 2002 – and don’t think they don’t know it.

“That’s something the coaches have brought to our attention this season, the importance of Jacksonville volleyball and how hard other teams have worked to get here and to be able to hold so much weight behind our name,” middle hitter Aniya Jefferson said. “We’re pretty cool on our history. I’m glad we get to be a part of it and go (to regionals) this year.”

The Golden Eagles (27-10) will play Deshler (37-14) in their regional opener at the VonBraun Center in Huntsville Thursday at 11:30 a.m. White Plains (20-18) also qualified and will play Wilson (33-10) at 12:45 p.m.

The last time Jacksonville didn’t get out of the area tournament was 2001 and 2002 – and it’s the only time they’ve missed since 1995. Within that legacy are 12 straight Final Four appearances and three state titles.

“It works both ways,” Jacksonville coach David Clark said. “One, you get an advantage sometimes because the people you play know who you are and there’s a certain (reputation) attached to you, but you also have the back side of it that’s the higher expectations every time you play.

“That’s probably my biggest concern going into Thursday. Not that we don’t respect our opponent, we have to spend more time on Jacksonville and be more worried about us — what are we going to do, what is our reaction to things going to be. That’s what we’ll spend the next couple days on.”

No doubt he’d like to go to Huntsville with the team that finished Monday night’s tournament than the one that started it.

The Golden Eagles were two points away from winning the first set of their semifinal match, but Hokes Bluff rallied with the final six points to win 25-23. They pulled away from a 23-all tie to win the third set, but had control of each of the last three sets of the match.

And while it looked as if they won the first set against White Plains with ease, 13 of the 18 points the Lady Wildcats scored came off 13 Jacksonville errors. It went from that to pulling away from an 11-all tie with a 14-1 run to close the match – and doing it without top player Elizabeth Poe, who came off the floor before the set because of illness.

To pick up the slack, the Golden Eagles got strong play from middles Jefferson and Kayla Broom, Lydia Crow and Michelle Wyckoff. Poe had 16 kills in the Hokes Bluff match and seven against White Plains before taking ill. Jefferson and Wyckoff combined for 15 kills against White Plains. Jefferson and Broom combined for nine blocks.

“What’s key for this group is learning to handle the adversity of a match and we’ve struggled with that,” Clark said. “I was really pleased not just we played better volleyball, but Elizabeth doesn’t feel well and has to come out in the third game and we just kept rolling along. If you can get to that point where another person just steps up and people step in and do more because she’s not there and realize they have to do more, that’s when you have a chance to be good.

“It may be something that turns out to be a blessing for us that we were in that situation tonight. And being down one to Hokes Bluff in an elimination game can be a positive for us, even though we didn’t play well. I feel like you have to be pushed to realize what you can or can’t do.”

White Plains earned its second straight trip to the regionals by beating a Cherokee County team that had beaten it twice during the season 3-0 in the semifinals. All three sets were as tight as you’d expect in a match between second and third seeds.

The Lady Wildcats trailed most of the first set and were receiving at set point, but scored the last five points to win 26-24. They rallied from an early deficit to win the second set 25-20 and scored eight of the last 10 points in the third set to close out the match 25-23.

“That was our goal coming in, taking care of business, defeating Cherokee County — and they did that,” White Plains coach Candi Cronan said. “But I don’t think they understood the potential they had against Jacksonville. I felt like we were a little complacent with that, but I told them I’m proud of them because they took care of business and did what I asked them to do in the first match. They gave it their 110 percent for the first match against Cherokee County.”

(25-18, 25-14, 25-12)
KILLS – White Plains: Rian Chandler 1, Landry Bussey 6, Jocelyn Harris 2, Ary Rosario 1; Jacksonville: Elizabeth Poe 7, Aniya Jefferson 8, Michelle Wyckoff 7, Kayla Broom 4, Brenna Stone 2.
BLOCKS – White Plains: Gracie Morgan 2, Jocelyn Harris 1; Jacksonville: Aniya Jefferson 5, Kayla Broom 4.
ASSISTS – White Plains: Natalie Pinto 4, Lucy Medders 3.
DIGS – White Plains: Isabella Pinto 5; Jacksonville: Aniya Jefferson 1, Brooke Murphy 2, Mallory Bell 3.
ACES – White Plains: Katelyn Barnett 1; Jacksonville: Elizabeth Poe 1, Michelle Wyckoff 1, Brooke Murphy 4, Rachel Underhill 3.

(23-25, 25-13, 25-23, 25-11)
(Jacksonville statistics)

KILLS – Elizabeth Poe 16, Aniya Jefferson 6, Michelle Wyckoff 6, Kayla Broom 2, Brenna Stone 2.
BLOCKS – Elizabeth Poe 1, Aniya Jefferson 3, Kayla Broom 2, Brenna Stone 1.
DIGS – Elizabeth Poe 1, Michelle Wyckoff 1, Rachel Underhill 2, Mallory Bell 2.
ACES – Elizabeth Poe 3, Aniya Jefferson 4, Rachel Underhill 2, Mallory Bell 2.

(26-24, 25-20, 25-23)
(White Plains statistics)

KILLS – Rian Chandler 2, Landry Bussey 8, Gracie Morgan 1, Jocelyn Harris 2, Katelyn Barnett 2.
BLOCKS – Landry Bussey 1, Gracie Morgan 2, Jocelyn Harris 3.
ASSISTS – Lucy Medders 6, Natalie Pinto 4, Landry Bussey 1.
DIGS – Isabella Pinto 1, Savannah Yates 1.
ACES – Lucy Medders 3, Katelyn Barnett 1.

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