Ringgold High School head volleyball coach Ashley Boren knew coming into Tuesday's Class AAA second round match with Greater Atlanta Christian that her Lady Tigers were going to have their work cut out for them facing the No. 4-ranked Spartans, and there were moments in the match when the Blue-and-White stood toe-to-toe and more than held their own.
Unfortunately for the home team, there just weren't enough of those moments.
Cheered on by an appreciative Ringgold crowd and a boisterous student sections, the Area 6 champions put up a valiant effort, but ultimately couldn't overcome the Spartans' talent as the Lady Tigers saw their season come to an end with a 25-13, 25-17, 25-17 loss.
"I looked at (GAC's) record. I knew they were ranked high and I knew it would be tough," Boren said. "Those private school around Atlanta always have good teams."
Ringgold (26-17) got the home crowd on its feet early as it jumped out to a 4-2 lead, but GAC (30-13) would counter with a 6-0 run. Still, the Lady Tigers refused to make it easy on the visitors from Norcross and trimmed the deficit down to 11-9 on a kill by Ricki Lynn Bickley.
However, GAC quickly reeled off the next three points, forcing Boren to call a timeout, but things wouldn't get any better for the Lady Tigers after the break. The Spartans extended their run to 10 straight points behind the power hitting of 6-foot-1 sophomore outside hitter Ali Schreiber, who had nine kills in the opening set.
GAC got out to a 15-9 lead in the second set, but Ringgold would chip away at the lead following a timeout. A 4-0 run, highlighted by a big block from Chloe Hall, chopped the GAC advantage down to 15-13, but the rally would be short-lived as GAC used the serving of Jessica Wright for a 6-1 spurt that re-established control of the set.
With Schreiber on the back row early in the GAC rotation in the third set, Ringgold tried to take advantage. But 5-7 freshman Lexy Taylor took up the slack for the Spartans, hammering home three powerful kills as GAC stormed out to a 13-5 lead at the halfway point.
GAC would lead by 10 points on two occasions, the last coming at 20-10, but the Lady Tigers would thrill the home crowd with one final burst of energy. With Zoie Metcalf toeing the service line, Ringgold reeled off five consecutive points to chop the lead in half and force the Spartans to call timeout.
However, after the brief break, GAC would turn to its leading hitter to put away the match. Schrieber would deliver three kills down the stretch, including her 23rd and final kill of the night on match point to put the Spartans into the Elite Eight.
Despite the straight-sets loss, Boren said her players had every reason to hold their heads high.
"(The way we played) was definitely something to be proud of," she explained. "Our girls never gave up and I think that was the fasted-paced game we've played all season. Most of the time when I called timeout, it wasn't because we were playing bad. I was just letting them catch their breath and get something to drink because (the action) was just going and going non-stop."
Bickley had four kills and 14 digs on the night to go with four blocks and an ace. Metcalf finished with 12 assists, nine digs, five aces and two kills. Hall had three kills, two aces, a block and a dozen digs, while Lauren Terrell added 11 digs, a kill, an ace and an assist.
Also contributing for the Lady Tigers were Bethany Thomason (3 blocks, 1 kill), Jasley Brooks (8 digs, 1 kill, 1 ace), Jewel Parham (1 kill, 1 dig) and Emily Ridley (2 digs).
Tuesday also marked the final high school match for Ringgold seniors Bickley, Hall and Terrell.
"I just love this group," Boren said. "They're great girls on and off the court and they get along so well. These three seniors will be so hard to replace. I'm so thankful to have girls that give 100 percent in practice and games, but also love the sport and have fun while playing. We all really just enjoyed practicing, traveling and being a part of the team together."