By R. Alan Richardson
Morgan’s Lady Spike Dogs may have backed up a little in the 8-AAA Area volleyball tournament last week, but their goal of making it to the AAA State Tournament will become reality Wednesday when they take on Coahulla Creek High School in Dalton.
The girls lost to third-place regular season finisher East Jackson in the first round of the Area tournament in the best-of-five format before besting Hart County in the consolation match. Jackson County breezed through the tournament as they did the regular season (10-0) by continuing their unbeaten streak to win the tournament easily. East Jackson finished second and Hart County captured fourth.
The loss moved Morgan back to the number three seed from 8-AAA and will now have to make the 150 mile road trip to Dalton. Coahulla Creek comes into the match as the second seed from Area 6 (3-1) behind Ringgold. The Lady Colts posted a 19-16 regular season record.
In first-round action, Morgan came out strong against East Jackson winning the first set 25-22 before succumbing to the Lady Eagles in the next three by scores of 17-25, 23-25, and 24-26. Coach Greg Thompson observed, “Obviously we would have liked to have had a different result after the area tournament. It was nice going in as the number two seed, but either way, we had to go through East Jackson to get to the championship match with Jackson County. I liked how we got off to a good start by taking the first set, but we just had a hard time keeping up the level of play we needed to win three out of five.”
The Lady Dogs were led by first team All-Area stars, Bailey Shultz and Aris Hubbard, as well as second team nomination, Madison Gasque, throughout the tournament. Morgan was superior in the first set against East Jackson running out to an early 12-6 lead. Senior libero Gasque was all over the floor with her hustle on digs and knee burn plays during the run. The Eagles fought back to within two points at 24-22 before Lexi Forton got the final point on service.
The second set was when another all-area selection, 6’2” Syd Mathis, and her teammates began to assert themselves. After falling behind at 5-1, Morgan never got closer than that margin eventually losing 25-17.
The Lady Dogs came out fighting to a 10-6 advantage with freshman Brooke Butler and Hubbard doing most of the damage with kills and points around the net. Solid service runs by Katie Hill and Anna Cox were key. The set went back and forth after that until East Jackson tied things up at 14-14. They took a 24-20 lead late that the Dogs cut to within one at 24-23, but the heartbreaker came when Mathis went down the line with a screaming shot to end the third set. This gave the Lady Eagles a 2-1 set margin.
It was do or die for Morgan in the fourth set and they fought to the bitter end. This one went down to the wire as the team played some of its most inspirational volleyball of the season. There were 11 ties and a dozen lead changes. The floor play, passing, setting, and net play were outstanding against what proved to be a better team on this day. Morgan enjoyed its largest lead at 15-12 before the Lady Panthers went on a six-point roll to regain an 18-16 advantage. Hill got three points on serve and it looked like the girls would tie things up at two sets each. With Morgan leading 24-22, East Jackson reeled off a flurry of four straight points that stung the Lady Dogs for the win 26-24 and a 3-1 match victory.
Thompson said, “Overall, I was very proud of the way we battled and I felt like we were in all three matches that we lost. Sometimes you just have to hand it to your opponent and give them the credit they deserve. They outplayed us and deserved to be in the Championship match against Jackson County.”
The loss was tough, but it was now on to Hart County for third place. It wasn’t easy, but the girls found their game for the 3-1 match win. They lost the first set 26-24 after leading a majority of the contest, but then finished off Hart in the next three. In the second set, Morgan jumped out early to a 10-4 start and coasted the remainder of the way for the easy 25-15 win to tie the match at 1-1. The third set was almost identical as MOCO got out of the gate quickly and held on for the 25-16 win. The fourth and final set was much closer at 25-20 with the Lady Dogs capturing third place from the region.
The win sets up the match with GAC this week. “You never know going into the state tournament. We will be traveling a long way in the first round, but we certainly intend on going there trying to advance to the second round,” said Thompson.
Next up: Coahulla Creek High School in the first round of state play will be played Wednesday, Oct. 11, at Coahulla Creek. Start times had not been announced at press time.