While not forgetting last year’s memories, the 2012 team has a chance to pick up where last season’s team left off as it begins the Elite Eight today at the Birmingham Crossplex.
“We’ve talked about that moment last year, the final point in the final game, how we were all standing on the sideline and it seemed like everything went down to slow motion,” Slay said. “It seemed like when the ball was falling to the floor it took like 10 minutes for it to hit the floor and for them to call it the end of the game and for us to have won. When the whistle blew, everything just kind of erupted. It’s one of those things that everybody will only get to experience one time.”
However, with the graduation of four impact players from the 2011 team last May, there are not only new faces on the floor this year, but each player is playing a different role from a season ago in hopes of making another state championship run.
Seniors Adele Fink, Peyton van Ekris, Anna Turner and junior Corey Phillis were contributors last season, but all needed to play larger roles this year.
Each player had never played either the front row or the back row. All three needed to become all-around rotation players. Phillis also switched from outside hitter to middle hitter.
“Corey’s not naturally a middle hitter, but she’s worked tremendously hard and has been so effective in that position,” Slay said. “She’d much rather be an outside hitter, but she has done what she needed to do for our team and she’s been great at that position.”
Adding junior setter Rylee Segret and sophomore outside hitter Jordan Ray into the mix, Slay’s adjustments were set into place and success quickly followed.
A week after the season began, the Lady Falcons finished second in the MAC Attack at Montgomery Academy, a tournament where the 2011 team didn’t make it out of pool play.
“It was pretty tough competition,” Slay said. “We played and beat Providence Christian and Alabama Christian both at that tournament, and they both won their South Region classification this week in 2A and 4A.”
Pushing team unification since day one, Donoho continued to play successfully throughout the season despite having a few bumps, which came from lack of the consistency. Before reaching the postseason, the Lady Falcons continued their success in the Calhoun County Volleyball Tournament, winning it, which the 2011 team did not do.
“This team is a lot different from most teams that I’ve been coaching because most teams want to be intense and want to push themselves to be intense and push each other, but this team plays better when they’re loose and when they’re having a good time and not really tight or growling at anybody,” Slay said. “It really isn’t about one player being dominant. We can overcome a player having an off game, we just can’t overcome people not being in sync with the rest of the team. That’s where we get into problems.”
After winning its area and South Super Regional, Donoho is back in the Elite Eight. With the final round of the state tournament’s venue having a new look along with the Lady Falcons, Slay has confidence her team is capable of repeating the Class 1A championship.
“I don’t make bold predictions about anything, but our whole thing revolves around them being completely unified, being consistent and staying level,” she said. “When our kids are playing well together, that flow needs to be consistent and be at a high level and I really think when they’re playing, like that, they can beat anybody.”
Sports Writer Brandon Miller: 256-235-3575. On Twitter @bmiller_star.