East Hall just wasn’t playing its game midway through Wednesday’s match, according to coach Ted Deppe.
Down two sets to one, the Lady Vikings were missing returns, hitting long and leaving the net unguarded in their first home playoff match in program history against visiting Ringgold. That’s when senior Allyson Segars stepped up.
“Ally stepped in there as a captain and said, ‘Let’s win this one,’” Deppe said of his outside hitter. “She was saying, ‘We need to win three anyway, so let’s do it.’”
Segars led the Vikings (43-14) with 23 kills and 14 points on serve to help win a five-set comeback thriller 23-25, 25-21, 22-25, 25-19, 15-9 in front of a boisterous East Hall crowd.
East Hall hosts Kendrick on Tuesday in the second round of the Class AAA playoffs.
Ringgold came into Thursday’s matchup as a No. 4 seed out of Area 6-AAA, but quickly made its presence felt in East Hall’s gym. Jessica Hargrove’s accurate shot split two East Hall defenders to put the Tigers up 8-4 early in the first set.
The Vikings won six of the next eight points to tie at 10-all. Neither team could hold on to the lead until Ringgold’s Erin Gwaltney (six kills) smacked a shot past East Hall’s Cassida Shockley (45 assists, seven kills) that earned the Tigers the point and the opening game.
East Hall continued to struggle during the opening stages. Ringgold went up 5-1 early in the second set when East Hall hit long returns, and would retain the lead soon after when Lindsey Brumley’s towering hit was too hot to handle.
“It took us a few games to figure Ringgold out,” Deppe said after the match. “I know early that it was nerves. Just talking to them in the locker room before the match, you could tell they were nervous. But they’ve been in the situation where they need to act and they fought ’til the end.”
The Vikings looked at ease when Segars (six aces, five assists, 19 digs) was at the service line. East Hall went on a 3-0 serving streak with her and would go on to win five of the next six points en route to a 25-21 decision.
A 11-2 run by Ringgold halfway through the third set threatened to break that complacency. Madison Spence hit one of her five kills to the far baseline that would slip through two pairs of Vikings hands to give Ringgold a 22-17 lead after a monster block by Hargrove (five kills, 29 digs), who rose bravely at the net to deflect sophomore Minette Maldonado’s tip.
“We came in here as a four seed and they were first seed, so we’re happy with how we played, but we just wish the outcome was different,” said Ringgold coach Ashley Boren. “They have a good team, but we have good hitters too.”
It was at that juncture, at the brink of elimination, that Segars helped to rally her teammates in the huddle before the penultimate set.
“Our team’s never been in that position,” Segars said. “It was great to come out and compete. Knowing that we got put out in this round two years ago, it made us want to get further. I said that if we just settled down and play our volleyball, we’d be good to go.”
With the nerves gone, East Hall took a quick 7-3 lead with four straight service points from Segars. The Vikings would go on to take the next seven of 11 to build a 14-7 lead, highlighted by Savannah Lindsey’s acrobatic overhead long-range attempt that landed just inside Ringgold’s left baseline. Lindsey, a libero, finished with 25 digs, an ace and a kill.
Minutes later, Emily Roberts (13 kills, five blocks, one dig) smacked her cross-court kill into Ringgold’s Gwaltney, giving East Hall the momentum to steal victory in the decisive set.
“I knew coming into it, it would be nerve-wracking,” Deppe said. “In front of the biggest crowd we’ve ever played in front of, they played tough.”
The Vikings stormed out to a 9-4 lead in the fifth before two straight kills by Segars and Maldonado’s ace put East Hall three points from victory. Gwaltney handed the Vikings that victory soon after when her return hit the net, sparking a riot on the East Hall bench. A 30-strong student section joined the Vikings in their jubilant post-game celebrations.
“I would trust [Segars] to put a ball down in the last point in the match,” Deppe said of his co-captain. “Whether she’s made a mistake or not, she’ll want the ball and she flat-out played her heart out. She was key tonight.”