The Calhoun Lady Jackets played one of their most complete matches of the year on Tuesday night, and the final result was a program-history making moment.
The Lady Jackets got off to a bit of a slow start in their Class AAA State Tournament second-round matchup at home against Pike County, but got it together from there and never looked back to defeat the visiting Lady Pirates in three sets and advance to the third round for the first time in program history.
Calhoun (32-14) fell behind 10-3 in the first set, but a quick timeout by head coach Randy Rice helped to get the team refocused, and they controlled the match pretty much from that point on. They won the first set 25-19, followed with a 25-22 advantage in the second set and completed the three-set victory with a 26-24 mark in the third. The Lady Jackets responded each time Pike County made a little run and refused to get down on themselves when something did not go their way.
Rice said this team continues to amaze him with their progress and improvement over the season.
“This is another ‘wow’ moment for me,” said Rice. “These girls are really a year ahead of schedule in my opinion. I thought we would improve this year, but I didn’t expect this. But they keep amazing me. The way we’re serving it and hitting it right now, I think we’re playing at the top of our game.”
The Lady Jackets will now face Lovett on Saturday at 1 p.m. after the final eight teams were re-seeded. Calhoun was seeded No. 8 and will visit the No. 1 seed Lady Lions.
Calhoun played a consistent match on Tuesday, which is something Rice said the team couldn’t seem to put together early in the season. However, they have used some early-season setbacks as a learning experience and have come so far in the past few months according to the veteran coach.
“I can tell when we’re not playing our best or focused on what we need to do, but now it’s easy to fix. Earlier in the season we had trouble with that and would play up one set and then down the next set,” said Rice. “Before, everyone was trying to make a superior play. Now we have girls just doing their job, and that’s what won it for us today. We had a gameplan, and we stuck to it.
“We served it well, and we felt like their serve receive was struggling. We felt like we could exploit that. Our outside hitters played well also. My big sophomore Anna George got mad too, and she was outstanding once again.”
George, who was the Area 1-AAA Co-Player of the Year, had a big night at the net with 13 kills. Sophie Stewart was also key in the victory with her eight kills, six aces and three assists, and Erin Kelly added five kills and five assists. Emma Kate Smith contributed in several areas also with five kills, four assist and one ace.
Also filling out the stat sheet was Erin Davis with three aces and one assist, Ashlyn Brzozoski with two digs, two aces and one assist and Ashton Ensley and Callie Ledford with one assist apiece.
The Lady Jackets have been on a roll since their loss in their second match of the Area 1-AAA Tournament to Bremen. They rallied from there to win three straight, including a victory over Sonoraville and two straight against Bremen to earn the Area 1-AAA title. They then kept the momentum rolling in the first round of the state tournament with a three-set victory over Groves.
Rice said his team is playing with a lot of confidence right now and have grown dramatically as a unit from where they started.
“We lost some matches at the first of the season to some teams that we shouldn’t have, and we really struggled with our identity,” said Rice. “The girls kind of blamed each other, and we dealt with a little self-doubt and nerves. But over the last several weeks, the girls have learned how to respond. They know how to respond in matches when they get down. I’ve said all year that we’ll be as good as our leadership demands, and the girls feed off each other now and just continue to get stronger.”
Despite going further than any Calhoun Lady Jackets volleyball team has gone before, Rice added that his team is still not satisfied just making it to the third round.
“This is Calhoun High School, and there is no satisfaction in just making it to the next round,” said Rice. “I told the girls that they should definitely enjoy this win tonight, but we’re going to be back in practice tomorrow getting ready for the next one. We’ll play whoever and wherever they tell us to. I’m excited to see what we can do in the next round.”