Some mental preparedness and time to reflect on their first-round wins proved to be pretty impactful for a pair of Floyd County volleyball teams Wednesday.
Coosa and Pepperell both were dominant on the court from the start of their Sweet 16 matches and swept their opponents in three sets to earn spots in the Class AA/A Public Elite Eight on Saturday.
The Lady Eagles defeated Lamar County at home with set scores of 25-4, 25-9 and 25-7, while Pepperell made the trip back to Talbotton and won its match over Central 25-8, 25-7 and 25-20.
It is the sixth season in a row that Coosa has advanced to the state quarterfinals, while Pepperell breaks new ground for its program with its first-ever appearance in the third round.
“This was one of the girls’ goals for this year,” Pepperell coach Lee Donahue said. “We’ve got a three-hour ride back, but they were happy when they got on the bus.”
Top-ranked Coosa will host No. 3 Woodville-Tompkins on Saturday, while No. 5 Pepperell will travel to Jonesboro to take on No. 4 Elite Scholars Academy, the team that eliminated the Lady Dragons in the Sweet 16 last season.
Coosa (47-7) used an accurate serving game to set the pace of their match against the visiting Lady Trojans and never looked back, committing only two serving errors out of 74 serving attempts and improving on their execution in Saturday’s opening round.
“That’s incredible, and I would say out of this entire season that was the cleanest volleyball we’ve played in an entire match from beginning to end,” Coosa coach Nic Hann said. “That’s something we’ve talked about this week. We knew there were a few moments Saturday where we weren’t playing so clean and we worked on those issues. Tonight we saw them do everything we talked about this week.”
Makayla Nelson, Kasey Thacker and Brinley Smith each anchored long serving runs in the first set to build a 22-2 run for the Lady Eagles that wrapped up the first set. Sarah Arrant added to the service game in the second set, and Thacker decisively made the last big stand with a 10-point run from serve in the final set that pushed Coosa ahead 19-4.
By the time Mary-Kathryn Broadway powered a kill over the net on match point, Coosa had clearly set itself apart from its opponent.
“Coach Hann has talked to us about how it’s really important for us to hit zones to get our opponents out of their system,” Thacker said. “So we’ve been working on hitting zones at practice. That keeps them from getting it to their setter and allows us to run our front row better.”
Thacker led with 11 kills, nine aces, and six digs, while fellow senior Jordan Roberts finished with nine kills, four aces, and three digs.
“We definitely focused more on having fun and working as one,” Roberts said. “Just finding joy and not playing like it’s a job, but playing because we want to play. We really focused on one point at a time, and that got us further today.”
Arrant made her biggest impact of the postseason with eight kills at outside hitter to go with an ace and a dig. Brinley Smith recorded 31 assists, three aces, and four digs, while Makayla Nelson had eight digs and an ace.
“I told them after the match that this is the team we have been waiting to see all season,” Hann said. “To see us come out after two hard days of practice and execute like that, I hope we can replicate that these next two days of practice and we come out with that same intensity.”
Pepperell (29-14) staved off a comeback attempt by Central-Talbotton in the third set to complete its Sweet 16 victory. Donahue said his players never got down.
“They were just playing really well and excited to be there. I think they had it in their head they could do well,” he said. “A lot of it was mental, and they were just having fun doing what they were supposed to do.”
Eva Ellenburg recorded 10 kills, and four aces for the Lady Dragons, while Mattie Blalock had seven kills and Ruby Morgan finished with six.
Times for Saturday’s matches were not available as of press time. Pepperell and Coosa are the last two teams from Area 6-AA/A Public left in the playoffs, and are on opposite sides of the bracket.