The atmosphere of the GHSA volleyball state championships Saturday was all new territory for Coosa — For the coaches, the players and the program.
But the Lady Eagles were there. They had made it. And while a state title wasn’t in the cards on their first trip to the finals, they made sure those watching knew they were familiar with the hand being played.
Coosa led the first two games of its Class AA championship match with St. Vincent’s Academy with solid starts but fell behind late each time on the way to a 3-0 loss at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School in Atlanta.
“We felt like we put ourselves in the situation to win,” Coosa coach Nic Hann said. “We just didn’t play as disciplined as we know we can, and that’s unfortunate right here at the end of the season.”
St. Vincent’s, the No. 1 seed in the Class AA state playoffs, won by the scores of 25-19, 25-18 and 25-14 in the match that left neither team completely comfortable.
But still, Coosa, which finishes the season with a 41-10 record, made a statement just by being in the title bout as the Lady Eagles became the first team from a public school to play in a GHSA Class AA state championship game. They were also the only public school among the Class A, AA, 3A and 4A finals Saturday.
“That says a lot about our team and how hard they’ve worked this year,” Hann said. “They wanted it, and they wanted it bad, and they weren’t letting anybody this season get in their way of getting here.
“I mean our goal was Final Four because we had never made it. So I told the girls getting here was icing on the cake. We would have like to have had a little more icing, but it’s still a huge accomplishment for our girls and for our school.”
Coosa junior Taylor Roberts had eight kills and four blocks in the match. Senior Abigail Talley finished with nine assists, and Debra Barker, a sophomore, had six aces and three digs.
Senior captain Tori Overby completed her high school career by picking up three kills and eight digs. She said the team’s work ethic and chemistry helped get them to the last game of the season.
“We’ve been a total family this entire season,” Overby said. “We have worked our butts off in the gym all summer. We gave up a lot for this. We got here. We did what we wanted to do.”
Coosa came out of the gates showing little intimidation in each game Saturday, taking the early lead and displaying control with their serves before St. Vincent’s (28-13) was able to find momentum off of unforced errors by the Lady Eagles.
Barker was the early standout in the opening game, serving Coosa to a 7-2 lead with three aces. The Saints made a quick run of their own to bring them within one of the lead, and Coosa came back to go up 15-10.
St. Vincent’s senior Sarah Stewart stood out for the Saints and became a strong part of their roll in the second half of the game that saw Coosa score just four more points.
That pattern continued on into the second game, where a 15-12 Coosa lead gave way to a 10-1 run for St. Vincent’s. A 6-2 lead for the Lady Eagles to start the third game was countered by a match-ending 13-2 stretch for the Saints.
“They did what we thought they would, we just didn’t execute like we wanted,” Hann said. “We knew their outside hitter was going to be strong, that she was going to attack hard, and she caught us sleeping a little bit with our defense a little out of position.”
There were tears as Coosa accepted the Class AA runner-up trophy following the match, but as they posed for a team photo, the section of students and fans began to chant, “It’s great … to be … a Coosa Eagle.”
A couple of smiles appeared on the players’ faces.
“No one in the state believed that an old public school out of Rome, Georgia could come to the state final and compete, and we did that,” Hann said. “So hats off to our girls. … I’m very proud of them for what we accomplished this year.”