E.A. Sports Today

Saving Gracie


Alexandria falls in 5A regional final without injured veteran setter, sophomore Steen steps in and helps hold it together

Injured Alexandria setter Gracie Muncher (2) watches the action in the 5A North regional championship match unfold from the bench Saturday. On the cover, sophomore Kayleigh Steen (4) stepped in and helped keep the Lady Cubs moving.

Wednesday, Birmingham Crossplex

Lawrence County (57-4) vs. Carroll (15-16), 9:30 a.m.
Brewbaker Tech (18-9) vs. Arab (32-12), 9:30 a.m.
St. Paul’s Episcopal (25-15) vs. St. John Paul II (21-30), 12:30 p.m.
Alexandria (41-9) vs. Rehobeth (21-7), 12:30 p.m.
Winners play at 5:30 p.m.

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

HUNTSVILLE – Alexandria showed a lot of heart in playing for the Class 5A North Regional championship Saturday, but it’s hard to win without your soul.

The Lady Cubs lost to Lawrence County in the regional finals at the VonBraun Center here in three tight sets without the glue that keeps them together on the floor.

Never underestimate the value of a good setter. The Lady Cubs don’t.

Senior setter Gracie Muncher, one of the most prolific passers in the program’s history with more than 3,200 career assists, was held out of the match due to a hand injury. She began the match in the trainer’s paddock and returned to the bench during the first set to remain a spectator, often offering encouragement to her teammates by gently tapping her tender right hand into her left palm.

The “saving gracie” of it all was the Lady Cubs didn’t really need Muncher to play since they already locked up a return trip to the Elite 8 the day before and were playing Saturday for position in the championship bracket.

As the second seed from the North, Alexandria (41-9) will play South-3 Rehobeth (21-7) in their Elite 8 opener at the Birmingham Crossplex Wednesday at 12:30 p.m.

Muncher is expected to have an X-ray when the team returns to Anniston to determine her availability for this week. She admitted it was “tough” watching the match unfold from the sideline and is hopeful of a return – and so are the Lady Cubs.

“A lot of times setters get overlooked at what they do and how important they are,” Alexandria coach Whitney Welch said. “Kayleigh did a great job, a wonderful job, and I don’t want to take anything away from her, but it causes a wrench because every setter is different.

“I was worried we would possibly get drilled just not being able to do the things that we do, but we really came out and competed hard. Hopefully we grew and we still have our confidence about us.”

UPDATED: Tests on Monday revealed a torn ulnar collateral ligament (gamekeeper’s or skier’s thumb). It’s an injury normally casted for 4-6 weeks with no activity, but Muncher wants to play through it and is handling it for now with heavy therapy and rest and try “to get better after state.”

A definitive decision likely will be made after Tuesday’s practice. “We are going to tape her and give her some reps at practice tomorrow and see how that goes,” Welch said.

Tenth-grader Kayleigh Steen played in Muncher’s stead and drew positive reviews for the way she handled the high-pressure situation. Muncher had 54 assists in the Lady Cubs’ two qualifying wins Friday and 50 (with eight digs and four kills) in their 25-23, 26-24, 19-25, 25-23 semifinal win over Arab; she now has 3,202 for her career. Steen had 30 assists and three digs in the regional final.

The set scores in the final were 25-21, 25-17, 28-26. The Lady Cubs were tied in the first set as late as 21-21. The third set was tied at 21, 22, 23, 24, 25 and 26, but the Red Devils scored the clinching points with Alexandria big hitter Taylor Spradley out of the rotation.

“It was a little bit nerve-wracking, but I came in and tried to play my best,” Steen said. “It was nerve-wracking through the first few points, but probably halfway through the first set I got comfortable.”

The Lady Cubs had a chance to win their semifinal match with Arab in straight sets. They led 10-2, but the Lady Knights took advantage when Spradley was off the floor to go on a 16-3 run. They trailed 19-16 in the fourth set, too, but retook the lead 24-21 and close it out moments later.

“We should have put them away when we were up eight, but this was awesome for us; a huge win,” Welch said. “Even when we dropped that set it could have buried us if we didn’t watch out. I was proud of the way they competed and came back in Game 4. We’ve been talking about finishing all year.”

Muncher’s assists rank 14th on the all-time AHSAA list and second to Welch’s 3,772 in Alexandria history.


(25-23, 26-24, 19-25, 25-23)
(Alexandria statistics)

KILLS – Taylor Spradley 28, Aubrey Pople 12, Kendal Bumpus 7, China Lane 6, Mattie Wade 3, Gracie Muncher 4.
ASSISTS – Kinsley Gregoria 1, Gracie Muncher 50.
DIGS – Taylor Spradley 1, Aubrey Pope 8, Kendal Bumpus 1, China Lane 1, Mattie Wade 7, Kinsley Gregoria 11, Kaitlin Harvey 3, Gracie Muncher 8.
BLOCKS – Taylor Spradley 2, China Lane 2, Gracie Muncher 1.
ACES – Aubrey Pope 2, Kaitlin Harvey 1, Gracie Muncher 1.

(25-21, 25-17, 28-26)
(Alexandria statistics)

KILLS – Taylor Spradley 15, Aubrey Pope 16, Kendal Bumpus 6, China Lane 3, Mattie Wade 2.
ASSISTS – Mattie Wade 2, Kayleigh Steen 30.
DIGS – Taylor Spradley 2, Aubrey Pope 6, Kendal Bumpus 2, China Lane 1, Mattie Wade 12, Kinsley Gregoria 15, Kaitlin Harvey 11, Kayleigh Steen 3.
BLOCKS – Aubrey Pope 1, Kendal Bumpus 4, China Lane 3.
ACES – Kendal Bumpus 1, Mattie Wade 1.

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