On a night when little went right for Gainesville, not much went wrong for Starr’s Mill.
The Lady Panthers’ strong play at the net and forceful, well-placed serves, combined with Gainesville’s miscues led to a 25-14, 25-11, 25-17 sweep for Starr’s Mill on Tuesday night in Gainesville in the second round of the Class AAAAA state playoffs.
With the win, the Lady Panthers (24-25) advances to the quarterfinals, where the remaining eight teams will be re-seeding to determine Saturday’s matches. Gainesville’s season is complete.
“Their serves is what killed us,” Gainesville coach Randi Orr said of Starr’s Mill. “And our serves is what killed us.
“We just didn’t have the momentum that we had Thursday night (in a first-round win over Creekview),” Orr added. "We just didn’t have what we needed to finish. They wanted it more than we did and they walked away with the win.”
Gainesville struggled throughout the match with its serve, letting much-needed momentum slip away with unforced errors. In the three games, the Lady Red Elephants (34-10), never managed more than a two-point service run.
When afforded the chance, the combination of setter Kaylin Walden to hitters Anna Walker and Stasha Hopkins worked well. Unfortunately for Gainesville, those opportunities were few and far between.
Walker had nine kills and Hopkins added seven for the Lady Red Elephants. Kaylin Walden had 14 assists and six service points.
Starr’s Mill seized control early in each game and kept the Lady Red Elephants under pressure with precise serves and powerful kills from its hitters, leading to numerous multi-point runs.
“I though we served well, and the hitters were hitting, but they can’t hit if the passers aren’t doing their job,” Starr’s Mill coach Michael Melvin said. “I thought our serve receive was fantastic today. Certainly that was the best our back line has played all season, and that’s where the offense gets going.”
Starr’s Mill, which entered the playoffs as the No. 4 seed from Area 4-AAAAA, has now swept its first two playoff opponents, including Area 3-AAAAA champion, Richmond Hill.
“We’re playing pretty well right now,” Melvin said. “We didn’t perform as well as we wanted to in our area tournament, but it’s a tough area. We play a schedule to win games this month, not any time else, so we felt comfortable going into the state tournament that we could win a few games, and that was our goal at the beginning of the year.”
For Gainesville, thoughts will soon turn to next year. Despite the loss, the program has made strides of which Orr said she is proud. Prior to last season, when the Lady Red Elephants reached the Class AAA state quarterfinals, the team had never won a playoff match. They’ve now done it two years in a row and earned Area 8-AAAAA’s No. 2 seed their first year in the larger classification.
“We’re very proud of how far we’ve come,” Orr said. “You can’t beat being able to host two rounds of the playoffs. That’s a big deal. So we’re very proud of where we are and where we will be, and we’re walking away with our heads held high.”