Top-seeded and host Chestatee hoped the third time would be the charm against Hall County rival Cherokee Bluff as they met in one semifinal of the Region 8-4A volleyball tournament Thursday.
Then after dropping a three-set decision in that match and earning their way back into the championship game against their nemesis, the War Eagles were hopeful the fourth time would be the charm.
However, the Lady Bears weren’t going to let that happen, and used their experience and front-line strength to build big leads before coming away with a 25-20, 25-20 sweep to take the title at Chestatee.
Senior Grace-Blythe Cornett and Emma Staples had a big night, both in the title match and in the 16-25, 25-22, 15-13 win in the semis.
Meanwhile, juniors Sierra Piland and Olivia Owens also came up big in the title match to help Cherokee Bluff (35-12) win a region championship for the second straight season after taking the 7-3A title last year, claim their fourth win in as many matches against Chestatee (31-16) this season and earn a first-round home games against the No. 4 seed in Region 7-4A in the first round of the upcoming state playoffs Oct. 19.
“The first game (in the semifinals) was kind of the one we were worried about because it’s extremely hard to beat a team like (Chestatee) three times in a row,” Cherokee Bluff coach Tiann Myer said. “Statistically, that’s hard to do. So we knew we had a lot to deal with going in because Kaylee (Crumley) is a great coach and has them ready to go every time. So we were really glad to get through that.”
Unlike that semifinal match, in which Chestatee took the first set, Cherokee Bluff was able to build a lead right from the get go of the title match.
With the Bears leading just 8-7 in the opening game, Staples pounded a kill through a block at the net.
The senior then took to the service line where she put the War Eagles on their heels with one-touch service points on three of the next four serves, with Cornett finishing off a set from Maddie Levine in between to ignite a run of five straight points to give Cherokee Bluff a little breathing room at 15-10.
After Chestatee roared back to within 18-17 behind Valiree Schmus, Cornett teamed with Owens and senior Makayla Brix to help Cherokee Bluff regain momentum.
Brix opened and closed a 7-3 run with a kill, while Cornett also pounded down a pair of points and Owens chipped in another as the Lady Bears closed off the first set 25-20.
In Set 2, Piland began to assert herself at the net and helped Cherokee Bluff build another big lead 8-3 with a kill off an assist from Owens, a slam on a free ball at the net an a pair of blocks.
The lead grew to as much as 10 twice in the game, the last time at 19-9 following a Chestatee serving error before the War Eagles shook off fatigue from having to play three games in succession to make one last stand.
Schmus was again a catalyst, but had plenty of help from Abbagale Budd, Hannah Farrar and Kadence Wolfe to pull as close as 22-18 after Schmus converted an assist from Abby Allgood into a kill to cap a 9-3 run.
But Staples and Owens restored order for Cherokee Bluff with consecutive points, and Owens added two more kills, including a vicious slam at the net for match point to put away the 25-20 Game 2 win, and the match.
It was the kind of poise Myer has come to expect from her veteran squad that includes four seniors and eight juniors.
“It was getting a little nerve racking (late in Set 2),” Myer said. “But we never (panicked). Our go-to (players) were playing a great game. They were ready to go, and we were ready to get them the ball.
“We’re on a roll right now. (The players) have worked hard, and we have some solid, solid seniors. I think that experience, that’s what helping pull these juniors along and our (underclassmen) along.”
The day was another learning experience for a much younger Chestatee squad dominated by sophomores, including Schmus, who finished the match with 12 kills, five digs and two service aces.
And while dropping two more matches to Cherokee Bluff was frustrating, Crumley is confident that the experience will help the Lady War Eagles grow even further heading into their first-round state match and beyond.
“It’s frustrating, for sure, but (Cherokee Bluff) is a great team,” Crumley said. “They’re obviously a very talented team. They’re really experienced and that’s where we lack. We’re riding with six sophomores and, (Thursday) night, one freshman.
“We’re a young team. We’re gritty and we’re willing to fight, but we just came up short (Thursday) night.”
The Lady War Eagles, who swept North Hall 26-24, 25-16 to earn their rematch with Cherokee Bluff and will host the No. 3 seed from Region 7-4A in the first round of state, also got six kills from Wolfe, three kills from Farrar and 12 digs from Emily Graham in the title match.