E.A. Sports Today

Back in the final


Alexandria returns to state title match, taking out team that beat it in finals last year; Muncher plays, thumb ‘better than I thought it’d be’

Alexandria coach Whitney Welch has some words of encouragement for hitter Taylor Spradley during the 5A semifinal match against St. Paul’s Wednesday. Spradley had 39 kills in the Lady Cubs’ two wins.

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

BIRMINGHAM – Revenge was definitely on Alexandria’s mind Wednesday night as it played in the Class 5A volleyball semifinals — and revenge is exactly what it got.

The Lady Cubs beat the team that beat them in the state championship match last year, taking out St. Paul’s in the Birmingham Crossplex by the same 3-0 score they lost by last year. It was 25-13, 25-15, 27-25.

They will play for their first state volleyball title in 22 years Thursday at 1:15 p.m. in the adjacent Miller Arena against Lawrence County (59-4). The Lady Cubs lost to Lawrence County in the regional title match Saturday without setter Gracie Muncher.

If there was ever a question of which was more satisfying – returning to the state finals for a chance to complete some unfinished business or beating the team that denied them the title last year – Lady Cubs coach Whitney Welch didn’t hesitate an answer.

“Getting back to the finals, oh yeah,” she said. “We don’t want that red trophy. We’ve been mad at that thing for a while. It was nice to beat St. Paul’s but obviously that wasn’t our ultimate goal and we’ll talk about that in a little while.

“That was a little bit of a revenge thing for us, but it was more about finishing, finishing what we started. We wanted to come here today to get back into that game, but we want to finish that game. That’s our goal. They’re both pretty good, but we want the blue.”

The Lady Cubs (43-9) handled the Saints (26-16) easily in the first two sets – never trailing after 4-3 in the first — but the third was a dogfight. They rallied from 23-20 down to tie it at 23 on a huge kill by Taylor Spradley. The senior hitter had another loud kill later to give them a 25-24 lead.

Spradley has 22 kills in the match – going with 17 in the opening win over Rehobeth — and played without an error. Aubrey Pope had 11 kills and Gracie Muncher had 34 assists.

“Our mindset today was revenge,” Spradley said. “After what happened last year we were kind of out for blood. Last year was something we can never get back but I think just now we got back what we wanted. Beating them was great, but going back there (to the finals) means a lot.”

The difference between last year’s finals match and Wednesday night’s win, Welch said, was the experience of being on the big stage. The Saints won their eighth state title since 2005 last year and were playing in their 10th title match. The Lady Cubs were in the finals for only the second time since their last state title (1995) and, quite frankly, it was a little intimidating.

“As a team we were just out to seek revenge all around and we just wanted it so badly,” Pope said. “They took something from us that we can never get back. It was a great feeling beating them and going back (to the finals).”

In their first match of the day, the Lady Cubs had little trouble putting away Rehobeth in its Elite 8 quarterfinals, winning 3-0 (25-12, 25-8, 25-10).

The biggest drama in the opener was determining just how much Muncher would be able to play.

Muncher, one of the most prolific passers in state history, suffered a torn UCL in her right hand during the super regional in Huntsville on Saturday. Two days of intense therapy and prayers allowed her to get back on the court and she played with her usual steadiness.

She had 28 assists, many of them setting up Spradley’s 17 kills. Spradley is coming off an ankle sprain that limited her during the Lady Cubs’ area tournament.

“I’ll just say for my parents and my coaches and my team, teachers and everybody have been praying for us so I think that’s personally why it’s gotten better,” Muncher said. “It’s a little better than I thought it would be, but I didn’t have to play the whole game. We’ll just see the next game; take it game by game.”

Big hitter Spradley suggested it was a simple case of mind over matter – if you don’t mind it, it doesn’t matter.

“I told her if you don’t worry about it all the pain will go away,” she said. “That’s what I’ve always learned and that’s what I told her and it helped her a lot.”

The injury took Muncher out of her game a little bit. She didn’t serve as hard as she has in the past “because just hitting it hurt” and she just tried to get it in play. Her sets “were definitely different,” more up in the fingers.

Spradley, meanwhile, knows no other gear. Some of her kills were so hard they had to check the floor for divots. Her last two in the St. Paul’s match were rockets.

“I just play every game like it’s my last game,” she said. “It’s state, yes, but you don’t worry about what’s around you, just what’s going on on the court; that’s the most important thing to focus on when you play.”

Here’s a fast fact: Alexandria and Lawrence County won seven straight 5A state titles between 1993 and 1999. Alexandria won the first three in the stretch and Lawrence County won the last four. The 1995 and 1999 crowns were the respective schools’ last state volleyball titles.

(25-13, 25-15, 27-25)
(Alexandria statistics)

KILLS – Taylor Spradley 17, Aubrey Pope 11, Kendal Bumpus 2, China Lane 5, Mattie Wade 4, Gracie Muncher 2.
ASSISTS – Kendal Bumpus 1, China Lane 1, Gracie Muncher 34.
DIGS – Taylor Spradley 1, Aubrey Pope 6, Kendal Bumpus 3, China Lane 2, Mattie Wade 14, Kinsley Gregoria 10, Kaitlin Harvey 9, Gracie Muncher 4.
BLOCKS – Taylor Spradley 2, Aubrey Pope 2, Kendal Bumpus 3, China Lane 1, Mattie Wade 3.
ACES – Kendal Bumpus 1, Kinsley Gregoria 1.

(25-12, 25-8, 25-15)
(Alexandria statistics)

KILLS – Taylor Spradley 17, Aubrey Pope 7, Kendal Bumpus 7, China Lane 8, Mattie Wade 1, Gracie Muncher 1.
ASSISTS – Aubrey Pope 1, Kendal Bumpus 2, Mattie Wade 1, Gracie Muncher 28, Kayleigh Steen 7, Kameron Simpson 1.
DIGS – Aubrey Pope 2, China Lane 1, Mattie Wade 6, Kinsley Gregoria 10, Kaitlin Harvey 6, Gracie Muncher 3, Kayleigh Steen 2, Anna Johnson 2.
BLOCKS – Kendal Bumpus 3, Mattie Wade 3.
ACES – Aubrey Pope 2, Kendal Bumpus 2, Mattie Wade 2, Kaitlin Harvey 1, Kayleigh Steen 1.

(Thursday, Bill Harris Arena)

1A: Addison (50-8) vs. Meek (46-17), 8 a.m.
2A: Goshen (28-13) vs. St. Luke’s Episcopal (33-15), 4:45 p.m.
3A: Bayside Academy (41-10) vs. Montgomery Academy (44-12), 6:30 p.m.
4A: Saint James (36-9) vs. Deshler (43-14), 3 p.m.
5A: Lawrence County (59-4) vs. Alexandria (43-9), 1:15 p.m.
6A: Jasper (57-4) vs. Pelham (40-9), 9:45 a.m.
7A: Bob Jones (41-10) vs. McGill-Toolen (45-7), 11:30 a.m.

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