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On Saturday, Oct. 9, the Valwood volleyball team claimed their second consecutive GISA AAA State Championship.
Last year, the Valiants claimed their first Volleyball State Championship in program history, and the last time a Valwood team won consecutive state championships was tennis in 2003.
Of course, the Valiants knew repeating their championship win was possible. However, they also knew the challenging feat would take extensive preparation. Head coach Val Gallahan, assistant coach Chad Gallahan and intern coach Trey Ekker worked tirelessly to prepare the Valiants for the physically and emotionally challenging state tournament.
Coach Chad Gallahan stated, “During our season, we faced tough losses to two skilled public schools. As a coaching staff, we had to change what we were doing in practice. So, we made a commitment that practices would test the mental and physical fortitude of the players. In addition to challenging practices, we talked about the importance of being accountable and doing the little things right: running everywhere, remembering to breathe, and giving our best effort for every single ball. Going into this tournament, knowing that our girls had to overcome close to impossible odds in practice prepared them, mentally and physically, to come back and win the state tournament.”
To make it to the finals, Valiants (ranked second) first defeated seventh-ranked Frederica Academy (25-10, 25-11, 25-12). Then, the Valiants powered through Creekside Christian Academy (25-8, 25-10, 25-17), ranked third.
To claim the state title, the Valiants reverse-swept the No.1-ranked Dominion Christian Knights in a close five-set match. In the rematch from 2020, the Valiants dropped the first two sets 24-26 and 20-25, respectively. In the third set, after being up 6-5, the Valiants lost their lead until regaining it at 23-22. The Valiants fought hard for set three, winning with a score of 25-22.
After the third set, Valwood gained momentum and won the fourth set with an impressive score of 25-8. This unheard-of score in the fourth set was a team effort for the Valiants and a turning point in the game. After being able to sideout to earn the first point of set four, the Valiants subbed in eighth grader, Olivia Shen, who aced Dominion right off the bat. Then, All-State senior, Anna Alvarado, was able to go on a 9-point service run to get the Valiants to a 11-2 lead. Because of the Valiants’ strong serve receive, blocking, and offense, Dominion was unable to keep their serve. Valwood maintained aggressive serves and played consistently without a single service error, a major goal for the team.
Two-time All-State senior, Ellie Griner, went on a six-point service run to finish 25-8.
Finally, they won set five with the score of 15-12. Fifth set tie-breakers go fast, so the Valiants focused on not getting ahead of themselves and playing one point at a time. Although this set was close, they were able to stay mentally strong. The final point for the Valiants was won, like last year, with Valwood serve-receiving. All-State senior Adair Rodemaker hit the ball into Dominion’s block to finish the game and seal the state championship.
Rodemaker stated, “I think that our coaches prepared us well for this game on the court and mentally. What helped us persevere was knowing we could come back because Lee County had just done it to us the week before. We didn’t give up and had the momentum to win the third, fourth and fifth set.”
Throughout the entire state tournament, the Valiants implemented their serve as an offensive threat, earning a total of 41 aces. Rodemaker earned five of those aces, Alvarado and two-time All-Region sophomore Caylee Collins earned seven aces each and Griner earned 11 aces for the Valiants. Additionally, Shen confidently served at crucial points in the championship match, serving 10 times and earning one ace.
For the championship game versus Dominion, Rodemaker led the Valiants’ offense with 32 kills while Griner led the Valiants’ defense with 19 digs. With multiple players averaging a 2.0 or higher serve receive rate, the Valiants’ serve receive also aided them in winning the championship. Two-time All-Region senior Marleigh Carson averaged a 2.40 serve receive pass and Griner averaged a 2.81 serve receive. In addition to the serve receive from the back row, two-time All-State senior Bailee Musgrove and Caylee Collins held up a strong block in the front row to slow down Dominion’s sophomore Division I beach volleyball prospect. When combined, the Valiants’ aggressive offense and relentless defense made the Valiants unstoppable.
This year, the Valiants are graduating eight seniors, including seven players and one manager.
Alvarado described what it was like to win the championship: “After seven years with Coach Val and with the Valwood Volleyball program, I’m very thankful to have ended the season so strong. We played for God, we played for each other, and we played for our coaches.”
The Valwood Valiants finished their season as State and Region Champions with a 20-5 record. Marleigh Carson, Ellie Griner, Anna Alvarado, Adair Rodemaker, Bailee Musgrove, Caylee Collins and Annabelle Kerrigan were awarded All-Region. Head coach Val Gallahan was named All-Region Coach.