ATLANTA-The match was lost and the season over, but the Gainesville volleyball team and its fans were still overcome with the playoff excitement.
The Lady Red Elephants fell in three straight games (25-9, 25-13, 25-13) at No. 2-ranked St. Pius X in the
quarterfinals of the Class AAA state playoffs on Saturday to conclude its record-setting season short of its ultimate goal.
Gainesville (25-13) won more games and played in the postseason for the first time in program history in 2011.
"Coming in as a first-time coach, I saw the talent and the heart they had," Gainesville coach Randi Orr said. "I put everything, my whole heart into it, and had full confidence they could do it.
"Our expectation, of course, was to get to state, but I never thought about it because we were enjoying every step of the way."
Outside hitter Anna Walker said it was exciting each step of the way as they made history.
"After our first match, we're just like ‘oh my gosh, we just made history,'" she said. "Then after the Sweet Sixteen we're thinking ‘wow, we just made history again.' It was just so surreal."
And at the end of its last match, parents and fans showed their appreciation.
"We are proud of you!" they chanted as the girls huddled after the match.
"They have been amazing all season long," Walker said of the crowd support. "We played all our games at state on the road, and we've had more parents and more support than, usually, the home team had."
From the start, Gainesville was unable to match the strong play of the Lady Golden Lions' and their superb outside hitters.
"They were great," Orr said of St. Pius. "They were amazing. They were, of course, the better team today. They had some amazing kills, amazing coverage and they talked. They wanted it, and they took it."
In the first game, the Lady Red Elephants never strung two points together and, after falling behind early, were unable to make a move in the game.
The second and third games followed the same script until, late in the third, Gainesville was finally able to string a few points together.
After allowing St. Pius to take 14 consecutive points and explode to a 19-5 lead, Orr called a timeout. Out of the break, the Lady Red Elephants scored the next four points, their best stretch of the match.
"I told them we had nothing to lose at this point because no one expected us to be here in the first place," Orr said. "Go out there and play, because you deserve to be here as much as they do. They left the match with a smile on their face, and that's the most important part."
Leading the team were Walker (six kills), Lauren Carter (five digs), Grace Miller (four blocks) and Kaylin Walden (11 assists).
Orr said that she was very happy with the strides made this season, and added that she was already excited for next year.
"We're losing some seniors, but we also have some strong freshmen coming in," she said. "A strong junior class, and pretty much everyone on the team is going to go out and play club volleyball. We're going to come out real strong next year. We're going to come out with a huge desire to make it to the final four."