JACKSONVILLE - At full strength, it was already going to be a monumental task for the Cherokee County Lady Warriors to knock off three-time state champion Jacksonville in the Class 4A, Area 12 volleyball tournament on Tuesday.
But a rash of injuries and sickness forced Lady Warrior head coach Dax McDonald to dip into the junior varsity ranks to help out.
The younger players made an impact, but it wasn't near enough as Jacksonville swept Cherokee County 25-16, 25-10, 25-9 to end the Lady Warriors' season at 17-16.
"It's tough when you've got a week and a half to prepare for area and you lose some of your impact players," McDonald said. "The girls who were playing up from JV today, they're good, solid players, but sometimes the thing people overlook is team chemistry.
"Before the injuries and sickness happened, these girls had been playing together as a team since the end of last season, and they've had months to gel together. You can't expect that same team chemistry automatically when you throw in three new girls, no matter how talented they are. I thought they stepped up and did well, and I thought they played hard and didn't give up, but Jacksonville is a fantastic team. It just makes our job that much harder when we're having to replace key players."
The players McDonald was attempting to replace was Erica Ellzey, Grace Locklear and Tyleigha Reyes. Reyes played some in the match, but McDonald noted she was not 100-percent.
McDonald brought up libero Nataile Walls, outside hitter Emma Walker and middle hitter Destinee Scott. Walls posted three digs and Scott had a pair of kills.
"It was a good learning experience for them," McDonald said. "They've never seen that type of speed and play before."
Coley Battles led the Lady Warriors with eight kills and five blocks. Shana Hanson finished with five digs, two kills and two blocks.
Sierra Stone and Aniya Robinson led Jacksonville (39-10) with nine kills apiece. Stone also contributed seven blocks, two digs, two assists and an ace. Robinson added three digs and an ace.
Ann Poe posted 10 digs, five kills, four assists and two aces. Tatiyana Thomas tallied 24 assists, seven digs and three aces. Reagan Stallings finished with 15 digs and an ace.
The match marked the end of the volleyball careers for five Lady Warrior seniors: Battles, Kari Arnold, Meagan McGatha, Lexi Cooper and Kaitlyn Coheley. McDonald said his seniors will be missed.
"They mean the world to our program and to me," he said. "They're my first real group when I first started coaching (at Cherokee County). Coley and Kari are the only two left from that first varsity team I had. Meagan, Lexi and Kaitlyn are fantastic players. I rely on all of them, not just because they're the oldest and they're seniors, but they really are leaders. They've been really good mentors to the other girls."