Valwood volleyball falls in state semifinal

Valwood went in to the GISA state tournament with knowing that they would have to perform at their best each match to become state champions and complete a season in which it won the Region 2-3A title for the third straight year and earned a No. 1 seed in the postseason.

Top seeds were given a first-round bye, giving each top team a chance to scout their opponents before their match.

Valwood wound up matched up against Atlanta Girls School, which defeated Augusta Preparatory School in its first match after entering the tournament as a No. 2 seed.

AGS brought in a hard-hitting right side hitter and an athletic middle who gave opponents trouble. But Valwood made it look easy, beating AGS in straight sets (25-12, 25-16, 25-17).

Ellie Stark contributed four kills, seven digs, and five aces to the win. Breonna Gaskin had 10 kills, Sarah Sable served up four aces, and Maylee McLeod earned seven digs in the match.

In the third round, Valwood ran into its toughest competition of the season in last year’s state runners-up, Heritage School, for a semi-final match on the Hawks home court.

Heritage School got off to a quick start, taking the first set 25-19. The Valiants proved their resiliency soon after, pulling out a close battle to win the second game 25-23 and even the score at 1-1.

The Hawks won the third set to reestablish its one-set lead and push the Valiants to the brink, but Valwood wouldn’t go down without a fight.

Despite trailing 13-5 at one point, the Valiants leaned on the strong arm of Gaskin (one kill and two aces), to crawl back to within in four.

Riding the momentum created by Gaskin, Valwood surged to a lead late as the match remained tight to the final plays.

But holding a 28-27 advantage, the Hawks’ all-state outside hitter Genevieve Richards spiked the final ball down the line ending the Valiants season.

The Heritage Hawks would go on to win the state championship in five sets.

Valwood fell short of its title aspirations, but there’s certainly no reason for the Valiants to hang their heads after a season that saw them place 10 players on the all-region team.

Sable (54 aces), McLeod (138 digs), Gracyn Sanderlin (16 blocks), Kennedy Kimbro (470 assists; 41 aces; 124 digs), Hanna Dawson, Taylor Sanderlin and Georgia Booth each earned All Region 2-3A honors. Nicole Manwell received all region honorable mention.

Stark (79 aces; 168 kills; 154 digs) and Gaskin (104 kills) were also named to the all-region team, in addition to all-state honors.