SPRING GARDEN – Sand Rock volleyball coach Lisa Bates said her team watched the film of the Lady Wildcats getting swept at Spring Garden earlier this season. From that Tuesday film session, Bates said the Lady Wildcats’ mentality was that of ‘We’re not doing this again.’
Behind an aggressive effort fueled by a boisterous Sand Rock student section, Sand Rock defeated Spring Garden in the Class 2A, Area 12 title match in four sets, 25-17, 25-13, 22-25 and 25-21. The win propels Sand Rock (28-10) back home to host a sub-regional match against Area 14 runner-up Athens Bible on Thursday at 5 p.m. Spring Garden (31-7) travels to Area 14 champion Tanner, also at 5 p.m. Thursday.
“Huge difference,” Bates said of the difference between Sand Rock’s first and latest match against Spring Garden. “When we came here the first time, we were not playing like the aggressors. We let them hit at us way too much. We were just giving them easy stuff. Today our mentality was different. It was get more hard swings at them. They’re a good team, and it’s hard to hit the ball down on them. We knew we had to be aggressive. Easy stuff is not going to go down on Spring Garden. I felt like we were more aggressive today. It was a different mindset.”
Spring Garden coach Ricky Austin said Sand Rock came in “very determined” on Tuesday.
“That’s the Sand Rock I’ve been wondering where they were all year,” he said. “They just out-played us in every phase of the game. They were the aggressor. They were very motivated and very determined. That’s what it takes this time of the year to advance. They looked like a team that wanted to come in our gym and beat us, and they were very determined to do that.”
Before Sand Rock reached its sixth meeting this season with the Lady Panthers, the Lady Wildcats earned a sweep of Westbrook Christian in the tournament semifinals 25-8, 25-10, 25-15.
Much like the Westbrook Christian match, Sand Rock jumped out to an early advantage against Spring Garden and didn’t let up, keeping the pressure on the Lady Panthers.
For the day, Caley Garrett posted 49 digs, including 44 against Spring Garden. Lanie Henderson delivered 24 kills and four blocks. Hannah Davis collected 21 kills and 30 digs. Katelyn St. Clair managed 11 kills. McKenna Ballenger added 39 assists and 15 digs. Makenzi Blackwell came away with 15 digs and five aces. Haylee Stansell had 14 digs and five aces. Jacey Stephens managed 26 assists, six kills and 13 digs. Cheyanne Fuqua contributed six kills and three blocks. Maci Brown had three blocks and four kills. Jadyn Foster finished with three kills.
Bates said the Lady Wildcats had a little momentum carry-over from their tournament at Glencoe on Saturday.
“We played with a lot of fire on Saturday,” she said. “Even though we got beat in the semifinals against Boaz, we played the most intense and the most upbeat and with fire than we have all year. It was fun, that good kind of intensity. We just carried that over to today. They didn’t get too uptight. I think the third game we started to get uptight, but we turned it back up and played with fire today. I thought we played to win instead of scared to lose. Sometimes we do that, so I’m glad we came today with some confidence.”
Haleigh Molock and Autumn Sides both posted six kills to lead Spring Garden. Alle Jennings added four kills, a block and an ace. Abbey Steward added 12 assists and a pair of aces. Neely Welsh contributed five assists, two blocks and a kill. Lexie Adkison had three blocks and Abbie Woods finished with two aces.
“We just couldn’t pass very well, and it affected what we were able and not able to do as hitters,” Austin said. “They do a great job of covering the floor. We got a couple of really good swings at the ball when they were there picking it up or they were there blocking. We didn’t block well enough. We don’t play enough of that kind of team to really make us better at it.
“I do feel like we adjusted a little bit as the match went along. We did pass a little bit better. We played with intensity all the way to the end, and I was very proud of that, but now it’s time to go on the road and see if we can step it up as a team. You’ve got to win two more now to advance to state. That’s the focus.”