The third-ranked Lady Valley Cubs were faced with beating the two-time defending champion and top-ranked Wildcats, something no other team in the classification had done. Ultimately, the Lady Valley Cubs fell short, losing 3-0 (14-25, 16-25, 11-25) to a team whose roster included five players who stood at least 5-foot-10, including 6-2 senior Cati Leak, an LSU commit and reigning state Gatorade Player of the Year.
But the defeat couldn’t put a damper on a historic season for Alexandria, which played for what would’ve been its first state title in the sport since 1995.
“It’s great,” Alexandria coach Jordan Costner said. “That’s what these girls have wanted the whole time. Not only just to be at state but to be in this match and they did it. They worked extremely hard all year and it paid off.”
Alexandria (42-17) hung tough with Guntersville early but faltered late in all three games of the sweep. They trailed by four at 13-9 in Game 2.
The Lady Valley Cubs got to within one at 7-6 in the third game on a kill from junior Amanda Young before Leak went to work with big kill after big kill to give the Lady Wildcats some distance down the stretch.
“They have a lot of good hitters so you never know who to block or where to go,” Alexandria senior Devonna Taylor said. “So, I think that’s what makes them a really good team.”
Leak, the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, was the biggest for the Lady Wildcats as expected. She finished with a game-high 15 blocks while all-tournament team selection Kathryn Anderson added seven.
Wednesday night, Taylor and senior Morgan Read guided the Lady Valley Cubs, combining for 42 kills in a 3-2 victory against Wilson in the state semifinals. But the tandem didn’t have the same success Thursday against Guntersville’s gargantuan front row, finishing with six kills apiece.
“It’s not intimidating at all,” the high-flying Read said. “I’m not intimidated by a big blocker being up there. I just go up there and try to do my job the best job I can and not worry about it.”
Costner said the Valley Cubs’ margin for error against Guntersville (74-5), which defeated Jacksonville in four to advance to the final, was next to nonexistent following their win against Wilson, knowing the Lady Wildcats’ size and skillset.
“They play really good defense and they pass well in serve-receive,” Costner said. “It’s hard to beat a team that doesn’t make any errors and they don’t make any errors. We just made too many errors.”
A lack of focus at critical times when things could’ve gone either way hurt Alexandria, Costner said. But in the end they lost to a really, really good team, she added.
It was a point brought up by Taylor, Costner and Read in separate interviews.
Taylor and Read were both all-tournament team selections along with Jacksonville’s Allender Dogett.
The 6-0 Taylor added two blocks and a dig while Read contributed eight digs of her own. Setter Alie Hamilton had 12 assists.
“It’s a big deal,” Read said of the Valley Cubs’ accomplishments this season which also included runners-up runs in the Calhoun County, Area 10 and Regional C tournaments.
“It’s been a good experience, growing and learning as a team. I couldn’t ask for a much better ending. We always wish we would’ve won. But I guess you can’t always be No. 1.”
Said Taylor: “We’ve come a really long way, especially as a team, as a whole. We deserved to be here. We played well.”
Nick Birdsong covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575. Follow him on Twitter @birds_word.