Saturday the Lady Golden Eagles took Easy Street on their way to capturing the crown at the annual Calhoun County Volleyball Tournament at Van Deerman Gymnasium. Top-seeded Jacksonville dropped just one game in three wins against No.8 Wellborn, No. 5 Alexandria and No. 2 Oxford.
Jacksonville, ranked No. 4 in the state in Class 4A, defeated Class 6A Oxford for the fourth time in five meetings, winning 3-0 (26-24, 25-10, 25-21) in the final. For Jacksonville, the victory against the Lady Yellow Jackets avenged a loss in the final of the inaugural Sandy Hunter Invitational at Pleasant Valley.
The Lady Golden Eagles looked as if they’d coast to their fourth county championship since 2005 after winning Game 2 handily and building what appeared to be a commanding six-point lead in Game 3 at 17-11. The Lady Yellow Jackets briefly crept back into contention behind the stellar serving of Offensive Most Valuable Player Brittaney Brown, closing their margin of deficit to three before Jacksonville ultimately shut the door.
“I kind of expected it,” Jacksonville coach David Clark said of the hotly contested third game. “It’s kind of been the way we do things this year. We had one little let down against Alexandria but for the most part they stayed focused.”
Jacksonville middle hitter Haley Jackson was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, following a day on which she amassed 39 kills, 23 blocks, 13 digs and three aces.
“Teams think we’re going to go outside which leaves me with no blockers and gives me opportunities for kills and points. Without them I wouldn’t be able to do anything I do,” the 5-foot-10 junior said, referring to outside hitters Allender Doggett and Lana Bell.
Doggett was named the tournament Defensive MVP. She finished the day with 34 kills, seven blocks and 45 digs. Bell added 22 kills, 29 digs and four assists on her way to being named to the all-tournament team. Katie Neisler (22 kills and 11 blocks) and Nicole Penny (91 assists, 10 digs, seven aces, three kills and two blocks) also made the all-tournament team for Jacksonville.
Oxford tied Game 1 at 24 but Jacksonville closed it with a kill and a block on back-to-back points that seemed to take the sting out of the Yellow Jackets as they fell apart in Game 2.
“I told them, ‘You’ve got to keep fighting. You can’t give up’,” Oxford coach Wendy McKibben said. “You can’t give up. You’ve got to play hard the entire game. You can’t just play point-to-point or game-to-game.”
Brown finished with a team high 53 kills, 31 digs and eight aces for the tournament to lead the Lady Yellow Jackets. She was joined on the all tournament team by Katherine Uhrin, who tallied 25 kills, eight digs and three aces on the day, and Shanda Chastain. Who added 44 digs and six aces.
No. 2 Oxford defeated No. 15 Anniston 3-0 (25-3, 25-4, 25-22), No. 7 Piedmont 3-0 (26-24, 25-23, 25-18) and No. 6 Saks 3-1 (25-19, 19-25, 25-23, 25-15).
Jacksonville downed No. 8 Wellborn (25-19, 25-13, 25-11) and No. 5 Alexandria (25-20, 25-16, 16-25, 25-17) after having a bye in the first round.
“Hopefully, this showed them how good they can be when they’re consistent,” Clark said.
Nick Birdsong covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 235-3575. Follow him on Twitter @birds_word.