Facing Madison County on Thursday afternoon, the Golden Eagles were overwhelmed with the offensive attack from the Tigers, falling 25-18, 25-14, 25-7, in the state volleyball championship match.
“I’d just like to say, and I told them, I’m very proud of what we accomplished this year,” Jacksonville coach David Clark said. “Where we came from beginning to end is probably the biggest turnaround I’ve had in a team and it’s due to their hard work and doing them everything I’ve asked them to. We ran into a Madison County team that is very good and I think they hit like two balls out. They didn’t give us any room to breathe and I think they deserve to be the state champion.”
Each set did not start off on the right foot, with the Golden Eagles trailing by six in the first set, five in the second and four in the third before ever scoring a point.
Despite also never holding a lead, Jacksonville fought back in the first two sets to give themselves a shot to make a move. However, the play of Syretha Pride, who finished the match with 20 kills, was too much in the first and second sets and Hannah Nichols, who recorded 16 kills, was too much in the third.
Not only did Thursday’s championship win mark the 42nd consecutive victory by Madison County, it is also the first girls’ championship won by the Tigers.
“I am so excited for these girls and for Madison County High School,” Tigers coach Dena Clemors said. “A lot of pressure, a lot of expectations put on them and actually we never thought we’d be here, but after we got about halfway through our season we realized what was possible.”
Katie Neisler, who finished with 11 kills and five digs for the Golden Eagles, said she couldn’t think of anything Jacksonville could have done to stop Madison County.
“When we got here I thought about it and I could take a loss to Madison County because they’re a good team,” Mallory Haynes agreed. “These other teams, I couldn’t do it. Madison County, they’re good. They’re just a good team. I don’t know what else we could have done.”
With that logic, the Golden Eagles held their heads high after the match and what they accomplished in 2012, returning only two players from last year’s team — Neisler and Haynes.
Clark said the team kept him guessing most of the year of how good it would end up being.
“I think I saw it at times throughout the year of what we could be. I think consistency is a hard thing to accomplish when you’re inexperienced so that is what we battled,” he said. “I thought we played really well in our area tournament and in the super regional I thought we played some of our best volleyball at the end of the year.”
Neisler added she never thought Jacksonville would make it this far in the postseason when they traveled to a team camp at Middle Tennessee State before the season. Clark added that’s what makes the trip to the state finals special.
“The journey is always what’s important because the outcome is going to be what it’s going to be,” Clark said. “It’s going to be one way or the other and only one person is going home happy. I told them there’s 100 teams out there that would love to be where we are now. I told them it hurts now, but when you look back on this it’ll be the time you were here and what you did as a group and what you accomplished as a season.”
Sports Writer Brandon Miller: 256-235-3575. On Twitter @bmiller_star.