E.A. Sports Today

History repeats?

Spring Garden awakens echoes of 2007-08 with second state volleyball championship. Panthers will try to add the second jewel for this school year in basketball

Cover photo: Spring Garden claims its trophy Thursday after winning its second state volleyball title and first since 2007. (Photo by Joe Medley)

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 def. University Charter, 3-0 (Championship)

BIRMINGHAM — From “Just a Girl in the Garden” to the “Garden GRIT” shirts Spring Garden’s volleyball players wore in warmups for Thursday’s state final, slogan shirts tell a story for Spring Garden girls’ sports.

Joe Medley, Editor

They have to keep coming up with new slogans because they keep adding to the history of successes, and Ricky Austin has coached for most of them.

The Panthers added their second state volleyball title and first since 2007 on Thursday, sweeping University Charter 25-12, 26-24, 25-11 in Bill Harris Arena. Austin coached the 2007 champion and the most recent champions.

He coached the last seven of Spring Garden’s eight state titles in girls’ basketball, so forgive him if he toggles between history and the present. It’s all stored in that noggin of his, along with gigs of Xs, Os, scouting reports and motivational words.

The man who’s calling is all about living in the present slipped into talking history Wednesday night, after his latest Spring Garden volleyball team dispelled of a lot of sad history with Addison in the semifinals.

He couldn’t help thinking of Paige Anderson and crew and the 2007-08 school year, when eight basketball players helped him put Spring Garden volleyball on the blue map three months before adding the third basketball blue map on his watch.

It’s beginning to feel a lot like … 2007-08, Austin said Wednesday. He felt it and said it.

“I felt a little nervous after I made that statement, but I have that feeling with this bunch,” Austin said.

Spring Garden won its second state volleyball title with a roster that includes nine basketball players. That includes daughter Ace Austin, undoubtedly Spring Garden’s most consequential female athlete since Anderson.

You know, the point guard with all of those major college offers?

Heck, after watching 5-foot-8 junior explode off the floor for 26 mostly high-velocity, downhill kills in a MVP performance Thursday, why not make her the only point guard in history to handle jump balls?

Well, because 6-1 center Chloe Rule can handle that just as well as she blocks a volleyball net. That’s why.

For every reason Austin can name that his 2007-08 crossovers went there and got the T-shirts, he can name a reason why the 2023-24 parallels just might do the same. All they have to do is repeat as Class 1A state basketball champions, which seemed a lot more likely coming into this school year than a volleyball state title.

The feeling of history was all around Spring Garden’s contingent at Bill Harris Area on Thursday. Several of Austin’s all-season champions from 2007-08 attended the match, he said.

“If they weren’t (there), they’ve already texted me today,” he said.

Belief that a history like Spring Garden’s affords no doubt helped the Panthers dominate the first set. It helped them to answer University Charter’s second-set challenge, ultimately scoring the set’s final six points to win it 26-24.

The third set looked a whole lot like the first set, and Garden GRIT grew another championship.

It’s not a moment just for the crossovers. Libero Layla Ingram, who joined Austin, Rule and Avery Steward on the all-tournament team, now has something her basketball friends have.

“The basketball girls, they always had that ring, and I knew this sport,” Ingram said. “I wanted to get a ring, too, and I knew this group was going to do it.”

Austin said volleyball season has been all about volleyball. No basketball practice.

Though Thursday was the first day the AHSAA allowed regular-season basketball teams, Austin said he plans to ease that team into its next title chase. He wants them to enjoy title just won.

“They’re tired,” he said. “I’ll know when I sense they want it more than me that it’s time to put more on them.”

For the moment, the 2023-24 group has the first jewel of the double crown. Do we hear a triple crown, softball players?

Those Panthers have never gotten the T-shirt, but they’ve been there. They’ve become state-tournament regulars, and “Girls in the Garden” have a way of beating doors down after knocking enough.

Something about that Garden GRIT, and this group has the T-shirt.

“I can’t really say anything other than this is just an unbelievable group that’s come through at the right time,” Austin said. “I’m glad my path is cross their path. I’m just riding them.”

Match updates


–Back and forth, 10-10.

–Four points in a row for SG to leads 14-10. Timeout, UCA. All of those points resulted from Ace Austin hits, one UCA blocked out of bounds.

–SG with a run of nine straight to leads 19-10. Maggie Jarrett serving through the run.

–SG wins 25-12 to leads 1-0. WARNING: Austin is in beast mode with 16 attack attempts and nine kills.


–UCA gaining momentum, leads 8-3 as SG calls timeout. Austin has had a few hits out of bounds.

–An Austin hit breaks the UCA streak. SG trails 11-4.

–Four-point run for SG, trails 11-7.

–Set has tightened … 17-15, UCA, with SG serving.

–Austin converts a slow ball over the net to a hit to tie it 17-17. Timeout, UCA.

–Chloe Rule block then hit gives SG an 18-17 lead.

–UCA scores three in a row to leads 20-18, timeout SG.

–Down 24-20, SG rallies to within 24-23. Timeout, UCA.

–SG wins set 26-24, scoring final six points, leads 2-0.


–SG off to 5-1 start. Kristen Lewis with an ace on the back line.

–Make it 9-2, SG.

–A Chloe kill makes it 10-4.

–Olivia lays down the Law … 13-6.

–Ace with a slam, 17-9.

–Ace slams another, 19-10.

–Ace slams off of ACA hands and the official’s face, 20-10. Timeout, UCA.

–Ace, merciless, 21-10.

–Chloe kill, 22-10.

–Too much Ace, 23-10.

-Ace again, 24-10.

FINAL: Sweep you very much! SG takes third set 25-11, wins second state title, first since 2007. Ace Austin is MVP with 26 kills.

The Class 1A state volleyball all-tournament team (from left): University Charter’s Ella Grace Larkin and Ava LaCoste, Spring Garden’s Ace Austin (MVP), Chloe Rule, Layla Ingram and Avery Steward. (Photo by Joe Medley)

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