E.A. Sports Today

‘Happy birthday’

Pleasant Valley sweeps Sand Rock in the AHSAA Class 2A volleyball final, claims sixth state title and first since 1997 while giving retiring coach Bryant best birthday present ever.

Cover photo: Pleasant Valley players celebrate their Class 2A state volleyball title Wednesday in Birmingham’s Bill Harris Arena. (Photo by Krista Larkin/For East Alabama Sports Today)

Editor’s note: Includes videos of postgame ceremonies and interviews below.

BIRMINGHAM — Singing started the moment Dana Bryant made her way from Pleasant Valley’s bench to accept the ceremonial state-championship volleyball.

“Happy birthday to you,” resonated from Raider cheering sections as the retiring 18th-year coach stood and smiled for pictures.. “Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday, dear Dana. Happy birthday to you!”

Joe Medley, Editor

Pleasant Valley swept Sand Rock for the second time this season Wednesday. This time, the Raiders did it in the Class 2A state final, in Bill Harris Arena.

The final score read 3-0. 

The set scores read 25-13, 26-24, 25-18.

For one of Calhoun County’s most humble and respected coaches, the score read 47-25-18-1.

That’s 47 years old, 25 years teaching and coaching, 18 years as a head coach and, finally, the one state championship that has eluded her.

It came in the same season that saw Pleasant Valley win its second Calhoun County title on Bryant’s watch.

The championship came at the tail end of a 20-match winning streak.

The program’s sixth state title and first since 1997 came in Bryant’s 552nd career victory.

Retiring Pleasant Valley head coach Dana Bryant holds the state-championship trophy after the Raiders beat Sand Rock in Wednesday’s Class 2A state final in Birmingham’s Bill Harris Arena. (Photo by Krista Larkin/For East Alabama Sports Today)

And at the end of those miles walked by a 1995 Pleasant Valley graduate, legendary Pleasant Valley athlete and a state-championship coach, she heard the birthday song on the state’s grandest stage for high school volleyball.

“I really was fighting back tears,” she said with a laugh. “I couldn’t get a better birthday present. Turning 47 will be one of my best birthdays.”

What a difference a year makes.

She had to feel the birthday gods were on strike on Nov. 1, 2022. She was just getting over a state-final loss to Donoho six days earlier, say nothing of the flu bug that infected her and her team during that match.

After her postmatch interview Wednesday, Bryant recalled how sick she and her team were during last year’s postmatch interviews. She laughed as she explained and apologized to AHSAA spokesman Ron Ingram and assembled reporters.

All felt well Wednesday.

Bryant shared a coach’s dream birthday with daughter Allie, who made the all-tournament team alongside teammates Maddie Schwabe, Madi Hay and Lily Henry. Henry’s 14 kills earned her MVP honors.

“I think it’s the best birthday gift and the best retirement gift,” Allie Bryant said. “I think it’s the best.”

Per usual, Bryant’s husband, long-time Pleasant Valley softball coach David, was there on the bench, keeping stats and his supportive role during volleyball season.

Bryant’s voice broke with emotion as she talked about sharing the moment with her final team.

“They’re a phenomenal group of girls,” she said. “They don’t just have the aspects of a champion but the heart of a champion. They love each other and play hard in everything they do, and I couldn’t ask for anything better.”

As for what’s next for Bryant, she quite enthusiastically answered, “Retirement!”

“I’m going to breathe for a little while,” she said. “I do feel like the Lord has plans for me. As I move forward, I can see myself writing some books, devotions, and leading a women’s ministry. That’s what God has put on my heart.”

State volleyball pairings

Tuesday, 1:30 p.m.
Bayside Academy def. Oxford, 3-0
Tuesday, 10:30 a.m.
Alexandria def. Rehobeth, 3-0
Arab def. Alexandria, 3-2 (Semifinals)
Wednesday, 9 a.m.
UMS Wright def. Cherokee County, 3-0
Tuesday, 9 a.m.
Mobile Christian def. Glencoe, 3-0
Plainview def. Wellborn, 3-0
Tuesday, noon
Pleasant Valley def. Wicksburg, 3-1
Pleasant Valley def. Washington County, 3-0 (Semifinals)
G.W. Long def. Donoho, 3-1
Pleasant Valley def. Sand Rock, 3-0
Wednesday, noon
Spring Garden def. Faith Christian, 3-0
Spring Garden def. Addison, 3-0 (Semifinals)
Spring Garden vs. University Charter, 2 p.m.

Pleasant Valley’s team lines up for introductions before Wednesday’s Class 2A final against Sand Rock as retiring head coach Dana Bryant watches from the sideline. (Photo by Joe Medley)

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