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Chestatee earns first-ever volleyball playoff win
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Chestatee’s Melanie Smith sends the ball over the net as teammates Grace Brown (10) and Tyler Bennett (11) look on and Jonesboro’s Alana Wester guards the net in the opening round of the Class AAAA state playoffs on Wednesday at Chestatee High School. - photo by Jared Putnam | The Times

Tyler Bennett fueled various Chestatee runs, Alexa Starr put together a string of dominating serves in the fourth game, and the Lady War Eagles withstood the Jonesboro Cardinals, securing a 3-1 (25-19, 25-22, 18-25, 25-15) win and the school’s first-ever playoff victory on Wednesday night in Gainesville.

“It feels great for the girls,” Chestatee head coach Julie Rushing said. “They work so hard and for them to see the benefits of their hard work is just amazing. I’m proud.”

After rallying in the first game and never trailing in the second game, Chestatee was flat in the third game, falling into deficits of 10 points on multiple occasions and giving Jonesboro a bit of life moving into the fourth game.

But the Lady War Eagles quickly shut the door, using nine straight points to build an overwhelming lead that proved to be too much for the Cardinals to overcome. The run to start the fourth set was fueled by Starr, who recorded three aces in the nine-point run, finishing her night with a team-high six aces.

“Alexa came out and got her serves and aced it,” Bennett said. “For the third game we just came out really flat and I was so glad once we started to get some aces (in the fourth game).”

Along with Starr’s serves, it was Bennett that set up her teammates throughout the match, giving them ample opportunities to record points and keep the momentum going for Chestatee.

“(Tyler) is all over the place and part of that is the stuff we do in practice,” Rushing said of her captain.

“We have drills where she has to be the one that touches the second ball, no matter if there is someone else to help her. She has to get it because it makes her move her feet and take ownership. She is quick and she is just a great athlete, most of all.”

With Bennett setting up her teammates, the Lady War Eagles were able to rally from just a few points down in the first game on multiple occasions, pulling ahead by using five straight points off the serve of senior Melanie Smith.

Then in the second game, Bennett led the charge, putting together a few runs of points by herself, including a pair of kills late in the game that staved off a surging Jonesboro and kept the Lady War Eagles in the lead for the entirety of the match.

“I feel like everyone has stepped up,” Bennett said. “It is not just me, everyone is doing their part.”

Jonesboro was able to build a pair of 10-point leads in the third game, before Chestatee closed out the match behind Starr’s service run to open the fourth game.

“Just to start strong in any match, it sets the tone,” Rushing said. “We’ve been behind in matches before and we’ve fought back, but we know how much easier it can be if you can start with momentum at the beginning and carry it through. So the girls just made that one of their goals this year.”

Smith finished with a team-best 14 kills with two blocks, while Starr contributed seven kills to go along with her six aces.

Grace Brown, a first team all-region selection, finished with 11 kills and a team-high 16 digs for Chestatee, while Breezy Walker contibuted with 16 assists up front.

Bennett, who was also a first team all-region selection, finished with 13 assists, four kills and two aces for the Lady War Eagles.

Chestatee will face either South Effingham or Alexander next Tuesday in the second round. A score from the South Effingham-Alexander first-round match was not available on Wednesday night.

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