By Craig Sager II
Columbus 3, Marist 1: Columbus topped Marist (25-17, 25-18, 19-25, 25-14) and claimed its first state title since 2007. Middle hitter and sophomore Shardonee Hayes established her presence in Game 1 with a pair of kills and a block that fueled a 13-7 Columbus run to open the match. Senior Brianna Gogins closed out the opening game with one of her team-high 19 kills.
In Game 2, Columbus built a comfortable 23-16 lead and Marist gave the Blue Devils their last two points with serving errors. Facing elimination, Marist opened the third game with a 4-0 run but Columbus kept answering before finally knotting it at 18-18. Marist added a 3-0 run that gave the War Eagles some breathing room and Bailey Weiland clinched the third set with a kill.
Momentum seemed to be in the War Eagles favor, but Columbus and head coach Donna Fleming would think otherwise. After winning a five set semifinals match with defending champion Sandy Creek on Wednesday, Fleming felt her team was prepared for whatever came their way.
“We played a tough five set match in the semis with Sandy Creek and that made a difference today and gave us confidence [when we went to a fourth game],” said Fleming.
Columbus would cruise in the fourth game and jump out to a 16-10 lead that was extended to the 25-14 final. Brittany Griner came up with a huge block to set up match point. Sophomore Madison Fleming had 43 assists, seven blocks and an ace. Ki’Anna Duncan totaled 17 digs and Nancy Hatcher added 16 digs and Hayes finished with 10 kills.
St. Pius 3, Blessed Trinity 1: St. Pius’ Leah Hardeman went head-to-head with Blessed Trinity outside hitter Molly McAlvany and stole the show. Hardeman finished with 35 kills on 64 swings and gave the Golden Lions their first volleyball state title with a (25-21, 25-22, 22-25, 25-18) victory. Hardeman took over in the final game with 10 kills, including the clinching match point.
“She was fabulous,” said St. Pius head coach John Frederick. “I think she is the best player in the state regardless of classification.”
While Hardeman finished the points, the St. Pius defense was the key to setting up its senior finisher. Ryan Boykin led with 35 digs and Peyton Osborne added 19 of the Golden Lions’ 90 total digs. Setters Katrina Connolly’s 37 assists and Molly Gunn’s 32 assists turned the defense into offense for St. Pius.
Blessed Trinity forced a Game 4 by holding off a St. Pius comeback. The Titans’ 18-10 lead vanished and the Golden Lions took a late 21-20 edge. McAlvany got Blessed Trinity back in front and closed the set with kills on three of the final four points.
Wesleyan 3, Westminster 1: Wesleyan used defense to roll past Westminster (25-21, 25-21, 22-25, 25-22) for the Class AA state crown. Wesleyan senior Hannah Hoskin finished with 22 digs and Kendra Koetter recorded 23 digs while adding 43 assists.
“Our energy comes from our defense and when Hannah is on, it brings confidence to us,” said Wesleyan head coach Ted Russell.
Wesleyan trailed 17-11 in Game 2 and used its back wall to hold off the Wildcats’ attack and to take the set 25-21 off a 14-4 run. Lauren Frerking and senior Katie Van Laeke each finished with 17 kills and Van Laeke recorded kills in four of the final six points of the match.
“I’d say that was Katie’s best game of her career,” added Russell.
Holy Innocents’ 3, Hebron Christian 1: Holy Innocents’ head coach Taylor Norland won three state championships during her playing days at Woodward Academy. She made history again today as she coached Holy Innocents’ to its first volleyball state title and became the first person to win a volleyball state title as a player and coach in Georgia.
Haley Collins helped pace Holy Innocents’ to its (25-18, 25-19, 26-24, 25-20) victory and tallied 22 kills and eight of the Golden Bears’ 20 aces in the match. Sarah Porter notched 62 assists and, in the fourth game, junior Sarah Joe added to her 14 total kills. “She [Sarah Joe] came alive in that fourth set,” said Norland. “I am extremely proud of her.”