In only their fourth year, the Lady Tigers volleyball team made history with their first appearance in the Elite Eight round of the 2019 GHSA State playoffs on Oct. 26. The team hosted the GAC Spartans for a best of five set match in front of a small, but raucous home crowd in the Ford Phillips Arena of Dawson County High School.
As the Area 7, No. 2 team, Dawson County entered the game with a ton of momentum having won six-straight sets in the first two rounds of the tournament. Playing in Savannah, the Lady Tigers swept past the Area 5, No. 3 Haralson County Rebels on Oct. 19 followed by a 3 – 0 upset win over the Area 1, No. 1 ranked Groves High School Rebels on Oct. 22.
The No. 3 team of Area 4, Greater Atlanta Christian was playing their third straight game on the road. In the first round, they eliminated the Area 2, No. 2 Pike County Pirates in straight sets, and then toppled the Area 8, No. 1 Jefferson County Warriors in the Sweet Sixteen match, also in straight sets.
Head coach Tanya Porter celebrated the victories in Savannah, but quickly turned her attention to the Spartans, a team she described as the Lady Tigers’ “toughest challenge yet in the tournament.”
“It was a great trip to Savannah, we not only won both games but got the opportunity to grow and bond as a team, sort of a double duty trip,” Porter said. “GAC is a good team, they are consistently in the Final Four. We will have to play very well tonight if we are going to beat them.”
The Lady Tigers jumped out to an early lead in the opening set as senior Marlie Townley turned in a quick three kills to stop GAC cold on the opening serves from both teams. The Spartans returned the favor, and pulled out to 4-point lead, but junior Olivia Walls tied the game at 11 with a series of well-placed serves to slow down the GAC attack.
Unfortunately, Dawson County could not sustain the momentum as the Lady Spartans broke service twice to the tune of a 6-point and 7-point run to take a commanding lead, winning the first set by a final score of 25 – 15.
The two teams went at each other point-for-point to begin the second set, with senior Chloe Bennett and junior Hayley Selzer driving the ball home for Dawson County while Micaela McClendon and Makale Everett provided superb defense along the back line.
A bizarre miscommunication among the officials that stopped the game in its tracks with the teams tied at 8 seemed to break the concentration of the Lady Tigers, and GAC used the confusion to open up another large lead, and went on to capture a 25 – 13 second set victory.
Determined not to go down without a fight, the Lady Tigers rallied for their largest lead of the night, opening the third set with a five-point rally and, for the first time in the match, creating visible confusion on the Lady Spartans side of the net.
For the third straight set, GAC relied on the powerful serve of senior Melissa Jones, and the strong front-line play of fellow senior Ali Schrieber to overcome the deficit. Sensing their berth in the Final Four was at hand, the Lady Spartans took the game to a new level and ripped off 10 points to complete the sweep of Dawson County with a 25 – 11 final score.
After the loss, Coach Porter focused on the positive impact of the 2019 season and the fact that, with only two seniors, the team had a solid core of players to build around for 2020.
“Obviously, this is not how we wanted it to end, but it was still an incredible season. I’m so proud of the girls and everything the accomplished this year,” Porter said. “We have a great group to work with and there is a lot that we will be able to look at once January rolls around.”