Randi Moore saw promise in the future of the Gainesville volleyball program, seconds after the Lady Red Elephants saw their season come to a close.
“It’s been a remarkable year,” she said. “It’s one that we’ll always remember and cherish. There were a lot of good memories.”
A breakout year for Moore’s team ended with disappointment when the Lady Red Elephants (36-12) fell 3-0 to Ola High Tuesday evening in the second round of the Class AAAAA playoffs in Gainesville.
The Mustangs (41-7) will next play on Oct. 24 in the state quarterfinals after topping Gainesville 25-23, 25-22, 25-20. Time and opponent are yet to be determined.
Gainesville’s defenders were unable to stop a barrage of close-range finishes by Ola junior outside hitter Riley Cid, who helped the visitors to a six-point tear to open the first set. The Lady Red Elephants fought back from 18-12 down to make it 24-23 Ola, thanks to junior Bessie Winston’s strong work at the net. But Ola’s Noell Stanton completed a smooth drop shot that caught three Gainesville defenders looking that secured an early lead.
Cid said her team enjoys creating its own momentum, sometimes screaming and shouting on the Ola bench to gain a slight advantage.
“The support, the enthusiasm we have for each other, it’s great,” said Cid. “There’s no limit to how far we can go. We can go as far as we put our minds to it.”
Gainesville secured its first Area 8-AAAAA title on Oct. 10 before sweeping Alexander five days later in the opening round of the playoffs. If there’s any consolation to a second-round exit, it’s that many of Moore’s players will be around to see the fruits of their own labor.
The Lady Red Elephants will graduate just two seniors, Morgan Frazier and Sally Callahan, while several younger contributors like Savannah Roys (24 assists, 11 digs, 1 ace), Sydney King (22 digs) and Winston (12 kills, four digs) should provide a strong returning class.
Tanai Watson finished the night with eight kills and 13 digs, while Anna Wylie combined to make three kills, two aces, four digs and two blocks.
“We’re all close, which is something I think we have that other teams may not,” said Roys. “We all have really close friendships, and hopefully we can get even better since we have a bunch of people still coming up.”
Ola’s momentum through the second set soon wore out Gainesville’s defenders. The Red Elephants were unable to find an answer for Cid or sophomore Skyla Whitaker, who both made hard shots near the sidelines to push the Mustangs to an early 11-7 lead in the second set.
Gainesville was able to claw back an 18-16 lead before Ola fought back to put together a five-point streak that handed the set to the visitors.
“Volleyball is a momentum game,” said Ola coach Lonnie Wheeler. “I tell these kids, when we go in a timeout, we’re in a roller-coaster, and we’re at the bottom right now, but we’ll be back up at the top soon. There were a few times when we gave up easy points, but it’s about how they came back up for us.”
Both teams traded quick 3-point bursts in the middle of the third set before Ola pulled out to a 19-13 advantage, thanks to shots by Stanton and Dakota Johnson.
Whitaker’s cross-court shot was the decisive one when she finished off a spike that couldn’t be returned, giving the Mustangs a berth into the state quarterfinals for the first time since 2009. The Mustangs were the No. 2 seed in Area 4-AAAAA, and beat Southwest DeKalb 3-0 in the opening round before meeting Gainesville.
“This is nothing to put our heads down about,” said Moore. “We’ll remember the good things of this year, and the girls fought very hard.”