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High school volleyball: Cherokee Bluff smashes Southeast Whitfield in first round of state
Region 8-4A champion Lady Bears will face Westminster in the second round Saturday
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Cherokee Bluff's Sierra Piland (22) puts the ball over for a point against Southeast Whitfield in the first round of the Class 4A state playoffs Oct. 19, 2022 in Flowery Branch. - photo by Bill Murphy

It was fairly clear that Cherokee Bluff wasn’t as sharp as it has been most of the season in the early going of its first-round Class 4A state volleyball playoff match against Southeast Whitfield.

The good news was the neither were the visiting Raiders, and the host Bears eventually began to execute at a higher level in the latter half of the match.

Buoyed by the all-around play of senior Grace Blythe Cornett and contributions throughout the lineup, Cherokee Bluff shook off the early rust and rolled to a 25-17, 25-8, 25-7 sweep of Southeast Whitfield on Wednesday at home.

Cornett did a little bit of everything, finishing with eight kills, 11 assists and a service ace, while fellow seniors Emma Staples and Maddie Levine and junior Sierra Piland and sophomore Erin Murrath played their roles to help the Bears (36-12) advance to Saturday’s second round, where they will host Westminster, which also swept its first-round match against Riverdale.

Still, it took a while for Cherokee Bluff to show the form it showed last week in sweeping through the Region 8-4A tournament.

“It was a slow start,” Cherokee Bluff coach Tiann Myer said. “There was a lot of excitement these last few days knowing that (the playoffs were) getting ready to start and … they just weren’t hitting on all cylinders (early) for sure. But we tried turning it around.”

The Bears showed glimpses of that turnround after letting an early 7-3 lead slip away in the opening set, and it was Piland at the net and Kiki Prather at the service line who helped ignite it.

After a Southeast Whitfield (7-33-2) service error gave Cherokee Bluff the lead back at 8-7, Piland pounded down kills on consecutive points.

Prather then continued her strong serving run with a pair of aces to highlight a 6-0 run that gave the Bears some breathing room.

Then after Southeast Whitfield answered with three straight points, Piland came up with another kill and an ace on her serve to extend the lead to 17-10, and Cherokee Bluff withstood a brief run to win the first set 25-17.

Still, the Bears were struggling with unforced errors in the second set and fell behind twice before taking a 4-3 lead after an exchange of hits into the net.

A kill by MaKayla Brix and two more aces by Prather helped stretch the lead to 11-3, while Cornett added a kill and an ace to blunt another Southeast Whitfield run to make the lead 19-6, and Cherokee Bluff cruised to win the set 25-8 and take a commanding lead.

“Our mindset wasn’t there in the first set,” Cornett said. “So, I think on Saturday when we play again, we just need to start out with a good mindset. I just think it was encouragement (among each other got the team on track), and I think we finally started coming together … and realized, ‘OK, we’ve got to get started or this is our last (match).’”

But Cornett and the Bears made sure Wednesday’s match wouldn’t be their last for the season, and made sure Set 3 would be the final one for the night.

Ellie Curtain converted a kill to combine with three Southeast Whitfield errors to give Cherokee Bluff a 4-0 lead, and Cornett answered a kill by the Raiders’ Kaylee Wright with two kills of her own to help the Bears get in gear and put the match away with a 25-7 win.

 

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