Once it was finished, everyone with the Cherokee Bluff volleyball program said its mindset made the difference in Saturday’s second-round state playoff match.
And playing against state powerhouse Westminster, which last won state in 2020, that mental edge can’t be overstated.
However, the Lady Bears were also clearly the better program on this day.
Cherokee Bluff jumped to a fast start in the first set and never trailed until Set 3 in a 25-14, 25-18, 25-21 sweep in Flowery Branch.
With the win, the Lady Bears are in the state quarterfinals for the third time since the program started in 2018.
“We are extremely elated, over the top excited,” Lady Bears coach Tiann Myer said.
Their third round opponent will be Whitewater on Wednesday.
Since both programs are a No. 1 seed, home court will be determined by a universal coin flip from the GHSA.
“We’re super excited,” Cherokee Bluff senior Maddie Levine said. “We have so much talent on this team and we’re using it together.”
From the start, Cherokee Bluff had exceptional communication on the floor and limited its unforced errors.
The same couldn’t be said for the Lady Wildcats (25-22), which have eight state championships in volleyball since 2000.
Consistently, Westminster was sending the ball past the back line.
“This is very special to beat a team like Westminster,” junior Sierra Piland said. “Westminster played great, but we really came out and dropped the hammer on them.”
Cherokee Bluff’s players feel like it has the talent necessary to make it even further than the state semifinal appearance as a Class 3A program in 2021.
The Lady Bears are pace by seniors Grace-Blythe Cornett, Makayla Brix and Levine and the junior Piland, among others, who have been part of the programs extended success.
In the first set, Cherokee Bluff quickly scored the first two points and had jumped to a six-point lead at 11-5 near the midway point of the opening set.
Once the first set was in the bag for the Lady Bears, there was palpable energy in the gym that it was going to be their day.
In the second set, Cherokee Bluff ran out to a 3-0 lead and was ahead 5-1 when a serve skipped perfectly over the net in its favor.
Then with a 12-7 lead, Westminster looked in position to put the ball over in a good position. However, the ball on its return rolled along the top of the net and out of bounds.
The first point that Cherokee Bluff trailed was when it went down 2-1 in the third set.
However, the Lady Bears found a way to rebound and kept their composure when Westminster found some momentum.
The final set was tied five separate times before Cherokee Bluff put it away.
One of the big moments late was when Cherokee Bluff’s Olivia Owens had a block that went straight down to the floor on the opposite side of the net, causing its fans to all start cheering.
With the win, Cherokee Bluff has made it through the first two rounds of state without dropping a set, after beating Southeast Whitfield 3-0 earlier in the week.