All it needed was one more game to clinch the AHSAA Class 2A state volleyball championship Thursday afternoon at the Pelham Civic Complex.
And with the way the Lady Raiders utterly dominated Cottage Hill Christian Academy in taking the first two, it seemed as if they would cruise to the state title that had eluded them in the two trips to the Elite Eight state championships in 2007 and 2008.
As they walked to the bench before the start of the third game, they held their index fingers in the air to symbolize what stood between them and the school’s first state title in the sport since 1996.
But Cottage Hill came back, all the way back. They won the third game handily, the fourth convincingly. They persevered to complete the hostile takeover, winning 15-25, 21-25, 25-12, 25-17, 15-11.
“We talked about finishing it out,” Pleasant Valley coach Dana Bryant. “We talked about not being satisfied with the first two wins.”
The Lady Warriors (42-13) turned their energy all the way up in the third game to stay alive.
Pleasant Valley jumped out to an early 2-0 lead, but Cottage Hill went ahead 6-5. The Lady Warriors won 11 consecutive points in a critical stretch to build a 16-5 margin, enough separation to go on to win the game comfortably. They went on a similar run late in the fourth game, reeling off five straight points after Pleasant Valley pulled to within three at 20-17 to even the match.
“It’s a momentum game,” Bryant said. “…and we lost the momentum in that third game.”
Cottage Hill began to scramble, extending points and playing more balls the way of 5-foot-11 junior middle hitter Meredith Parrott. Parrott, who was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, finished the final match with a game-high 26 kills to go along with seven blocks and 17 digs. The Lady Warriors other middle hitter sophomore Rachel Howell, an all-tournament team selection logged 17 kills in a winning effort.
“She’s the key and the leader on our team,” Cottage Hill coach Jennifer Newton said of Parrott who provided the final spike, converting on match point to kill Pleasant Valley’s last ditch effort at a comeback.
"She’s the spark. When she’s on, we’re on. She stepped it up, and that’s the sign of a real champion. When the game is on the line, she just carried us.”
Bryant said she still thought her team would pull the match out even after dropping the third and fourth games, especially after witnessing the poised they exhibited to pull together and win their semifinals match against Providence Christian in five the night before.
“We just started to make passing errors, serve-receive errors and digging errors,” Bryant said. “You’ve got to play to win. You can’t play not to lose and that’s what happened in those last three games.”
Jessie Kate Stewart paced Pleasant Valley (38-15(, filling out the final stat sheet with 17 kills, five blocks, 21 digs, three assists and an ace on her way to being named to the all-tournament team. Setter Ashley Bryant was also named to the all-tournament squad. She compiled eight kills, seven blocks, 17 digs and 29 assists.
Payton Lewis contributed with nine kills, 12 blocks and three digs.
Cottage Hill’s Kristen Sayers and Providence Christian’s Elizabeth Dowd and Sara Cary rounded out the rest of the all-tournament team.
Nick Birdsong covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575. Follow him on Twitter @birds_word.