The Golden Eagles cruised through the Class 4A, Area 11 tournament Tuesday, defeating Cherokee County in the finals 25-17, 25-15, 25-15.
“I tell them anytime you win a championship it’s always important,” Jacksonville coach David Clark said. “It’s always a time you have to step up and play.”
Next up, Jacksonville (32-13) will face Area 16 runner-up Central-Florence (18-22) on Friday at 6:45 p.m. in the North Super Regional in Huntsville. Cherokee County (21-14) will face Area 16 winner Wilson (36-8) at 4:15 p.m.
Jacksonville opened the Area 11 tournament by handling Hokes Bluff in the semifinals 25-10, 25-13, 25-16. The Golden Eagles didn’t take their foot off the gas pedal after that. Despite having the score tied five times in the first set and four times in the second set, Jacksonville never trailed Cherokee County.
“It was good to get the lead. You never want to put yourself in a pressured situation when you’re in a championship game,” Clark said. “Cherokee County was really emotional about qualifying and we’re fortunate that we’ve been there. It’s always a big deal to get in, but handling the emotions was tougher for them.”
Cherokee County entered the final after enduring a five-set semifinal win over Alexandria 16-25, 25-18, 25-21, 23-25, 16-14. That match ended less than 30 minutes before the final match started.
But the emotions of the Warriors didn’t show early. Cherokee County battled with Jacksonville deep into the set before the Golden Eagles went on a 7-2 run to win it.
Jacksonville used an 11-3 run in the second set to cruise to victory and started the third set with an 8-1 lead, which Cherokee County wasn’t able to overcome.
“I don’t want to say we’re used to it, but it’s nice to know we’re there again,” Jacksonville outside hitter Katie Neisler said. “I think I’ve said this many times, we need to clean a few things up, but I think we’re pretty much there.”
For Neisler, Courtney Bowden, Kristen Aguilar, Amber Quinn, Breanna Hosch, Halee Stallings and Ariel Diaz, winning the area championship was also the last time the seniors will play at home. Neisler said the group had a meeting before the match.
“We said we’ve got to win this because it’s our last time playing in this gym,” she said.
Neisler finished with 15 kills and four blocks. Ashley Clingan led the team with 19 assists, and Bowden added 16. Tamaria Mays finished the championship match with nine kills and four blocks, and Blessing Dunn added nine kills.
Brandon Miller covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575 or follow him on Twitter @bmiller_star