By MICHAEL ALEXANDER, Staff Photographer | Published November 16, 2006
Blessed Trinity High School, Roswell, and Marist School, Atlanta, exorcised the second-place “demons” in this year’s state volleyball playoffs at Marietta High School’s gymnasium to win state championships in Class AAA and Class AAAA, respectively.
Blessed Trinity captured its first state volleyball title after losing to Westminster School, Atlanta, in the 2004 and 2005 state championship matches. In 2006, however, it was a different outcome. In a five-game match, Blessed Trinity defeated Westminster 3-2. After losing the first two games and down 24-22 in the third game, Blessed Trinity had to mount a comeback in dramatic fashion. The team fought off not one but three match points to eventually win the third game 27-25. After the third game they snatched the momentum from Westminster and won the next two games 25-11 and 15-13. Junior outside hitter Jessica McAlvany led the team with 18 kills, while senior setter Holly Piper had 37 of the team’s 39 assists. Third-year head coach Paul Stevens had the task of motivating his team beyond Westminster and a second-place finish.
Stevens said, “Our team’s motto this year was ‘Respect everyone, fear no one.’ The idea was to put the focus back on our team, basically saying that as long as we respect our opponent’s abilities and play without fear, then we can take care of our side of the net.” Senior right-side hitter Liz Murphy was rather emotional as the team was crowned state champs in her final year of eligibility. Murphy said, “Our team has worked so hard to come out on top, so it feels fantastic to finally leave with a state championship under our belt. Westminster is a good team. Many doubted that we could beat them. We were definitely the underdog. It was a true David and Goliath story. That game and that memory will never be forgotten for as long as I live—it was a great way to go out.”
On the other hand, Marist secured its ninth state volleyball championship after a five-year drought, courtesy of College Park’s Woodward Academy. Marist had fallen to Woodward Academy in the state volleyball finals the last five consecutive years, but Woodward was eliminated by Starr’s Mill High School, Fayetteville, in the semifinal match. In the first game of the championship match Marist had to rally from an 11-point deficit, but eventually they defeated Starr’s Mill in straight games: 31-29, 25-11, and 25-21. Sophomore outside hitter Paige Wieland led the way with 11 of the team’s 36 kills.
If the absence of Woodward Academy in the finals mitigated the win, junior Lisa Carlson had her opinion: “For many the state championship has become defined as a Woodward vs. Marist game, but this year it opened the eyes to many people (including myself) that at any moment one team can outplay the other. In the end I know that it didn’t matter who was on the other side of the net because I trusted our team against any team in the state.”
Second-year head coach Anna Bush had to change the mindset of the Marist players at the beginning of the season. Bush said, “The first day of practice, I asked the girls, ‘How many state championships have we lost?’ The replies started coming back as four or five. You could see them looking up and trying to count. I then told them, ‘This team has lost ZERO state championships.’ We had to flush the negativity out. You could see the burden being lifted immediately.” The end result of positive attitudes and team unity produced a 48-5 record and another state title.
Holy Spirit Preparatory School, Atlanta, completed its second season of competitive volleyball. Head coach Mike Sickafoose looks forward to the further development and growth of its junior high and junior varsity athletes for future varsity play. Sophomore setter Jackie Kuntz was recognized as a Georgia Independent School Association (GISA) all-region volleyball player.
Our Lady of Mercy High School, Fairburn, capped off their season with 19 wins, the most in the school’s history. The team made the state playoffs for Class A/AA, area 3, where they experienced substantial wins over ranked teams. Although they lost to number four-ranked Savannah Christian Preparatory School, Mercy played a competitive match taking them to four games. Senior outside hitter Thomasinnia Berry led the team with 240 kills this season. Berry, who was named to the Class A/AA, area 3, all-area team and nominated to the senior all-star game, signed to play collegiate volleyball at the University of West Georgia, Carrollton. Five of the six seniors the team will lose were starters. Mercy head coach Bill Schmitz said, “The 2007 season should be a rebuilding year. Losing senior leadership and an outstanding player like Thomasinnia Berry will be tough, but we are excited about the players we have for next year.”
Pinecrest Academy, Cumming, advanced all the way to the fourth round of the 2006 Georgia Independent School Association (GISA) state volleyball playoffs. Pinecrest played Augusta Prep in a hard fought match, where they won the first of four games and then lost the next three. The game’s top servers for the match were ninth-grader Bridget Camacho and junior Annelise Nevarez. Camacho was also one of the top hitters along with senior Leanne Cassandra. Pinecrest will lose four seniors from this year’s squad, and according to the athletic director Charles Wiggins, “Pinecrest looks strong for next year with five returning starters and great depth in their bench.”
St. Pius X High School, Atlanta, managed to make it to the elite 8 of the state tournament before their season ended; nevertheless, it was a record-setting year in many respects. The team finished the season at 47-12, setting a school record for victories in a season. The team also broke two other records—consecutive victories with a 26-match win streak and the longest home winning streak with 12 straight home matches. Sophomore outside hitter Ellen Marsau led the team with 83 aces and 282 kills. Sophomore setter Hannah Sprague compiled 822 assists. Junior middle blocker Alaina Smith led the way with nearly 51 blocks. St. Pius will graduate five seniors from the team, but head coach John Frederick remains optimistic. Frederick said, “With our top four hitters and setter back next year, and with four freshmen who played varsity ball ready for an expanded role, we expect to be among the favorites to win a state championship in 2007.”