ATLANTA — Calhoun has had a special run over the past few weeks that included a late season surge to secure the top seed in the area tournament, a gutsy rally out of the loser’s bracket at the area tournament to capture the area title and two straight three-set playoff wins to advance to the Elite Eight for the first time in program history. But good things often have to come to an end, and the Lady Jackets’ faced that reality in a hard way on Saturday.
Calhoun visited powerhouse Lovett for a Class AAA Elite Eight showdown, and the No. 1 seed Lady Lions dominated the match, displaying incredible skill, athleticism and determination, to roll to a win in three straight sets and a berth in the Final Four.
The Lady Jackets (32-15) fell behind early in the first set and could never really recover to drop it 25-9. They then showed some life in the second set battling back and forth with Lovett (28-15) before seeing the Lady Lions finish the set strong for a 25-9 advantage. After a short break, Lovett came out in the third set and completed the match in strong fashion with a 25-9 victory.
Calhoun coach Randy Rice said it is always tough to lose and see your season come to an end, but the match should serve as a big learning experience for his team.
“There was never any quit from our girls, I know that,” said Rice. “We got frustrated and upset a few times, but I wouldn’t want any of the girls out here in a Calhoun jersey if they didn’t care. Lovett has a rich tradition, and they are used to being here. This is our first time at this level. It definitely showed us where we need to improve to take our game to that level.
“We’re only losing one senior, and Lovett has six so they were the more experienced team. I went back and looked. We started this program in 2009 so we’ve only been playing eight years. It takes a while to build to that level like Lovett. We’ll take a couple weeks off, and then I’ll be right back at it looking at camps we can go to and ways we can get better. We’ve got seven girls that will be coming back as seniors next year so I expect a lot out of them. I’m already excited for what we can do next year.”
Leading the way in the stat column for Calhoun was Anna George, Emma Kate Smith and Sophie Stewart. The sophomore George, who was the Area 1-AAA Co-Player of the Year, had five kills, two blocks and two digs, the junior Smith had six digs and there kills and the junior Stewart had six kills and one dig.
Erin Kelly added three kills, two blocks and one dig, Ashlyn Brzozoski had six digs, Jenna Santori contributed four digs, Anna Hoblitzell had two digs and two kills and Railey Greeson chipped in two digs. Calhoun’s lone senior Erin Davis finished off her career with three digs.
Rice said he is proud of all his team accomplished this season and how much time and effort they put in to improving and reaching the heights they did.
“I’ve coached competitively for over 40 years, and I honestly can’t remember a team that has overachieved as much as this one,” said Rice. “I really think we are a year ahead of schedule with this team, but they worked hard to get to this level. I’ve never been more proud of a group. There is no regrets with this team.”
Rice added that he will keep working to try to build on the program’s success.
“I’ll start soon reviewing film and looking at ways we can get better, and I’ll also start searching for camps so we can compete against good competition to make ourselves better,” said Rice. “I’ll also be walking the halls looking for players and visiting the middle school to talk to the eighth-graders that will be coming up next year. Volleyball at Calhoun is starting to get more and more popular, and the kids want to play and have success. I’m looking forward to what we can do with the program over the next few years.”
Lovett now moves into the Class AAA Final Four where they will host No. 4 seed Westminster on Wednesday.