Whitewater celebrates their state championship win over McIntosh.
(Staff Photo by Christopher Dunn)
McEachern High School played host to the AAAAA and AAAAAA volleyball finals Monday night. Fellow Fayette County schools, Whitewater and McIntosh represented half the contending teams, unfortunately against each other, for AAAAA championship bragging rights.
Each school was well represented by fans at the 5:30 match, the gym air crackling with nervous energy and excitement. Although not really condoned by powers of GHSA, the school administrators allowed fans from both schools to post signs all over the gym in an unprecedented move by a host school. Whitewater fans must have made better signs, since the Lady Cats brought home their second state title in volleyball, the only school sport to boast more than one championship in its history.
Play opened in game one with McIntosh jumping to a quick two point lead with back-to-back kills by Rhegan Mitchell and Saharra Griffin. The lead would prove to be the Lady Chiefs only one of the game, however, with Whitewater winning 25-20. Cats' setter Kait Steele utilized an arsenal of players to keep the Chiefs guessing where the next kill would land. Chiefs' coach Wendy Weaver also found herself confronting a challenging case of nerves in a few of her top players, the last point of the game a service order error by the Chiefs, the team's first of the season.
Game two opened with the Chiefs taking a commanding five point lead with clean offensive play, aided further by a couple of errors by the Cats. Whitewater coach Val Jones called a time out to settle her team down at score of 1-7, with mixed results. The Lady Chiefs played commandingly for most of game two, despite a late game Wildcats' surge to lead at point 23-20. Undaunted by the uphill climb, the Chiefs rallied a come from behind victory, winning game two 25-23. The best of five game match was now tied one game each.
Game three was all about the Lady Cats, who took a three point lead to start and never relinquished it, winning handily 25-17. Momentum seemed to be the Wildcats' friend, despite sloppy officiating early on resulting in a five-minute game delay. Undeterred by any outside influences and focused like a laser, the Lady Cats were on fire, committing only three unforced errors the entire game.
Game four was do-or-die for McIntosh and they played like they wanted it. From point four through point 18, the score stayed tied, each team trading points. McIntosh finally pulled ahead to lead 21-18, and again 22-21, but then gave the Wildcats three points, a service error and two hitting errors, and found themselves staring at the wrong side of the state championship match point. A kill by senior Annika Van Gunst over the middle sealed the victory for the Wildcats. A short trophy presentation acknowledged both teams' accomplishments ahead of the AAAAAA match waiting in the wings.
Catching up with McIntosh head coach Wendy Weaver after the game, she said, "I'm really proud of how my girls fought tonight. It was a tough match and they gave it all they had. We had a great season and this is an outstanding group of young ladies."
Acknowledgement of outstanding play must be given to the following Lady Chiefs: seniors Breanna Jones (9 kills, 8 blocks), Ashley Young (9 kills, 3 blocks) and juniors Rhana Mitchell (9 kills, 2 aces), Abbi Schelkopf ( 7 kills, 1 ace) and Rhegan Mitchell (5 kills, 2block-assists, 1 ace).
Wildcats coach Val Jones said, "The girls are quite familiar with McIntosh and we knew we would need to play and serve aggressively and try to keep them out of system. We did have some unforced errors, but we did a good job of fighting through them as a team. We played to win. McIntosh made adjustments in game four that we then had to adjust to to win, changing from a 6-2 offense to a 5-1. I am pleased to say it appears this team seems to have broken the 'curse of the Cats', which is losing to McIntosh in any sport finals for the last three years. Our teams can rest easy now."
Leading the Wildcats offense were seniors Teegan Van Gunst (19 kills, 3 blocks, 3 aces), Annika Van Gunst (15 kills, 4 blocks, 1 ace), Madison Akins (8 kills) and juniors Charlotte Hughes (8 kills, 2 aces), Kait Steele (1 kill, 51 assists, 1 ace) and Victoria Webb (1 kill, 2 blocks). Holding down the defense were seniors Abby Baker (22 digs, 1 ace) and Marisa Woodworth (19 digs, 1 ace).