The Calhoun Lady Jackets are on to the GHSA 3A Volleyball Elite Eight after sweeps of Lumpkin County and Islands High School last Saturday at Calhoun High School. The Lady Jackets have now reached the Elite Eight for the third consecutive season.
“I got a little choked up before we started playing tonight and I told them ‘As hard as you’ve worked, as much as we’ve accomplished, I could care less how it comes out as long as we’re together,’” Lady Jackets head coach Randy Rice said. “We played hard for each other and we’ve just turned corners working so hard.”
Calhoun played both its first round (Round of 32) and second round (Sweet 16) matches Saturday at Calhoun High School due to travel requirements by teams from southern Georgia.
Calhoun’s first battled the Lumpkin County Lady Indians in the round of 32. Lumpkin County started out up 2-0, but the Lady Jackets quickly found their footing, taking the first set 25-10.
The second set saw Calhoun storm out to a 7-1 edge. Lumpkin County attempted to mount a comeback, bringing the score to 9-6, but a crucial 7-0 run by Calhoun essentially quashed any second-set comeback. The Lady Jackets secured set two, 25-16.
Calhoun’s offense was clicking in high gear to open its 2019 playoff run and won set three 25-15, clinching a spot in the Sweet 16.
“I challenged them a little bit and they challenged each other,” Rice said. “They came through and they beat a very good team in Lumpkin County.”
Just as quickly as Calhoun celebrated its advancement, the team was back on the court less than an hour later. The Lady Jackets faced the Islands High School Sharks with a trip to the Elite Eight on the line.
Calhoun wasted little time in establishing its dominance from the get-go, as the whole squad appeared ready. The Lady Jackets earned set one 25-9, then took the next two sets by identical scores of 25-14, and the Lady Jackets were officially into the Elite Eight for the third straight year.
“(Islands is) up and coming and a new club, but they were scrappy,” Rice said. “They played hard.”
Rice said he made certain to give everyone on the bench, including some players recently moved up from junior varsity, playing time at some point during the playoff matches.
In the third set, sophomores Cate Momon and Dora Moore saw action on the court. Momon made an impact right away, recording back-to-back aces. Moore picked up a block-kill as a center-blocker along the front line.
“That just shows you how hard she worked because she couldn’t serve that well until she came to us,” Rice said. “She had some issues we had to work on, but she fixed it and I had no problem. That’s why I sent her back there to serve because she’d worked so hard and she deserved it and she did her job.”
For Anna George and Jenna Santori, Calhoun’s two volleyball seniors, their varsity careers continue on, and Rice had high praise for two he’s known for many years.
“I’ve had both of these girls since middle school and ... there’s no two sweeter girls, there’s no two more fierce competitors,” Rice said. “To see them be able to excel the way they have this year, they deserve everything that they get. All the good things that come to them, they deserve every bit of it because they’re that quality of young ladies.”
The Calhoun Lady Jackets will battle the Westminster Wildcats (Area 4’s top team) in the Elite Eight this Saturday, Oct. 26 at The Westminster Schools at 1:30 p.m. in Atlanta.
“We want a ring,” Rice said. “We all want a ring and we’re going to have some fun, but it’s going to be hard work and we’re going to put our team out here on the court and when we walk off together, as long as we worked hard, I’ll be satisfied.”
The Lady Jackets have some recent playoff history with the Wildcats. The two teams met in last year’s Elite Eight, but Westminster swept 3-0 to advance to the Final Four.
The Wildcats are 26-14 so far in 2019, and swept Peach County and Morgan County, respectively, to reach the Elite Eight.
To this point, the 2019 Calhoun Volleyball season has culminated in a 45-4 record. The Lady Jackets swept in 42 of their 45 match wins.
“You get scared at first because we started so fast,” Rice said. “I was a little bit concerned. I said ‘How do we get better from here’ because we started so fast and we did so well in camp. To see them respond to what you have to say ... its worth everything to me.”