If things go as they hope, come late October they’ll be playing in the Class 1A state final at the Elite Eight state tournament in Pelham. It’s the next logical step for a squad that went 40-16 and lost in the semifinals to eventual state champion Addison.
“I feel pretty good about our returning group,” coach Janice Slay said. “We’ve got four seniors and three of the four made all-county. They’re very experienced club players as are three of our other kids. With the combination of them having played at a very high level against club and high school competition, it should add depth to our team.”
Middle hitter Rachel Matson, libero Katie Swinford and hitter Grace Fink all were first-team selections to The Star’s Class 1A-2A All-Calhoun County volleyball team in 2010.
The 5-foot-11 Matson and the 5-8 Fink combined for nearly 650 kills while Swinford came up with close to 460 digs.
The Lady Falcons recently returned from a team camp in Auburn where Slay said they had an impressive showing against some of the best teams in the southeastern United States, including several 5A schools from Georgia. They also got a chance to test their mettle against defending Class 2A champions Cottage Hill Christian.
Slay, a former Jacksonville State University coach, is entering her third season at Donoho after 13-year hiatus from the sport. Now with a savvy and seasoned roster, she said she’ll look to implement more complicated sets as her team begins to prepare to take on the toughest season it has had during her tenure.
“Instead of the simple pass-set-hits, we’re going to do some different things with our offensive schemes,” she said. “I can be more technical with them, and we can add a little more finesse with what we run and that has to a lot to do with the majority of them being so well-versed, playing club ball.”
The Lady Falcons will be talking on all-comers this fall.
They’ll travel to Mobile to play in a tournament hosted by powerhouse Bayside Academy, winners of nine straight state titles. In their own tournament they’ll entertain 16 teams, all of which made it at least to the sub-state round of the state playoffs; Cottage Hill, Kinston, Holy Spirit and Isabella, regulars in Pelham, are among those expected to be in action.
The tournament, the Donoho Classic, will be held on Sept. 17 just two weeks prior to the Calhoun County tournament on Oct. 1st and a littler more than three weeks before the start of the state playoffs on Oct. 10th.
Donoho has adopted the motto of “Better to Best” for this season. It’s in step with the progress they’ve made under Slay the past two seasons, reaching the quarterfinals in 2009 and last year’s run to the semifinals.
They know what should be next for them — a state championship. It’s a realistic goal, Slay said. However, she also added it won’t come easy as 1-2-3.
Their journey to the Pelham Civic Complex begins with the sweat and toil the Lady Falcons will put in on this hot summer day in Sproull Gymnasium.
“You don’t get to the state championship without hard work,” Slay said. “Everything you do to get there is jus as important as getting there. Hopefully, they’ll rise to the occasion and hopefully I will too.”
Nick Birdsong covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575. Follow him on Twitter @birds_word.