For a span, Gainesville went swing for swing with the big-hitting of sweet-16 opponent Cambridge during Wednesday’s best of five match at Gainesville High.
Crucial adjustments allowed the Lady Red Elephants to even the match at a set apiece, but the Lady Bears packed more than enough firepower from the front row to reclaim momentum for the remainder to take it 3-1 (25-19, 19-25, 25-13, 25-15) and advance to the elite 8 of the Class AAAAAA volleyball playoffs.
Cambridge (31-15) will face Allatoona in the third round. The time and date have yet to be determined.
“That second set, we got to their (Cambridge) frustrations, but then allowed that frustration to trickle into the third set, which hurt us,” said Gainesville volleyball coach Randi Moore.
The Lady Bears took notice of Gainesville’s ability to adapt in the second set and regrouped. They traded power for ingenuity, creating campfire kills with offspeed swings and shallow-hit balls in the final two sets.
“They saw where our holes were. And we were ready for them to swing, and they beat us to it,” said fifth-year coach Moore. “We were anticipating the kill, but they saw that and played smart. They played smart. Tonight was a lot better, they came out and they were the better team. Second set, if we continued to play with that momentum, I think it would have been a different outcome.”
Olivia Gettys, Tangi Miller and Anna Wylie (six blocks) led the Red Elephants attack with six kills apiece. Senior Sydney King extended points throughout with 21 digs, while Savannah Roys dished 23 assists with 16 digs and two blocks.
Moore expressed her gratitude for her seniors King, Miller, Griffith, Mercer, Bessie Winston and Jada Johnson, who conclude a long and successful varsity tenure. The group collected the program’s first region title (2015), won their first Hall County Championship (2016), and made the state playoffs three out of four years — including back-to-back sweet 16 appearances.
Outside hitter Sterling Hines fronted the winning attack for the Lady Bears with 15 kills, including five in the opening game and four in the fourth. Team co-captain Regan Swift added eight kills and seven blocks, while Anna Youngs following with seven kills.
It was a back-and-forth battle for the first 19 points of the match. Early unforced errors and misfires put the Red Elephants behind 7-2, but they won seven of the next eight to take the lead for a brief moment at 9-8. Hines reclaimed the lead for the Bears two-points later with a forceful cross-court kill — one of many in the match. And at 11-9, a lunging dig by libero King denied a sure kill by Hines, and the Red Elephants ended the point with a Anna Wylie kill to make it a one-point affair.
The Lady Bears were able to pull away at 16-13 by taking four-straight at the aid of a kill by Youngs and a defensive block by Swift. Back-to-back kills by Youngs a few points later stretched the Bears’ lead to 24-18, and Youngs put a lid on it with a kill two points later.
Adjustments made heading into set two resulted in the Red Elephants getting the early jump, and held the Bears’ attack at bay for a short while. Gainesville climbed to a 11-5 lead on a 5-0 run, eliciting a time out by the visitors in response. Later in the set, Savannah Roys gave the Red Elephants a 20-14 lead after what was the longest rally of the match, throwing down a kill. The Bears clawed back on points scored by Swift and Hines, but the hosts managed to hold on for a 25-19 advantage in spite.
Blocks by Wylie, Olivia Gettys and Cori Griffith helped in the Red Elephants’ defense.
“They fought hard and they proved they could win without unforced errors and playing smart, and they did that,” Moore said of the second-set. “They had the intensity, and they had the drive to win.
We had to make sure we were blocking their big hitters, adjusting to where we were on the line.”
Although entering the fall with many young, but talented underclassmen. Moore can only look forward to the continued growth in her younger players that gained some much valued experience.
“We are gonna be young for a couple of years, however this is great experience for our younger girls, to see what the expectation is, what the bigger playing field looks like. So allowing them to have that kind of experience now, is only setting the bar higher for us next year to get them ready. It left a good taste in their mouth, knowing what they’re capable of.”