For the seventh time in the last nine years, the Golden Eagles celebrated a county volleyball tournament title, defeating top-seed Donoho 20-25, 25-23, 25-19, 26-24 in the championship match Saturday.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have some good kids comes through it. It’s a sense of pride and we play for pride,” Jacksonville coach David Clark said. “We know it doesn’t matter toward state and things like that, but it means a lot to them. I’m lucky to have players like Katie (Neisler) and her sisters and Blessing (Dunn) and everyone else.”
It was Neisler and Dunn who brought the offensive power to the championship, each finishing the four-set match with 21 kills. Dunn also had eight blocks.
But while second-seed Jacksonville got the upper hand in the end, Donoho took control early in its attempt to defend the championship it won a year ago.
The Falcons used a 6-2 run toward the midway point to extend a large enough lead that Jacksonville couldn’t pull off a comeback.
After the Golden Eagles were able to edge out Donoho over the next two sets to take a 2-1 lead in the match, the fourth set was nothing short of a championship-match battle.
The two teams were tied 12-12 and for the rest of the set Jacksonville would take no more than a three-point lead before Donoho would come back and tie it up. The Falcons would eventually take a 24-23 lead before a kill from Neisler and ace by Haylee Stallings would set up the match-winning point.
“It shows a lot of character and that you can put things behind you,” Clark said. “In this game things happen so quick that if you can’t put things behind you then you’ll get stuck in it. We have a lot of senior who have been there and I told them no matter how much you lose its still a loss. We didn’t even talk about it, we just moved on to the next game.”
Despite coming up short on the repeat, Donoho coach Janice Slay showed nothing but optimism after the match.
“The championship match was almost everything I hoped it would be,” she said. “The kids stood their ground against a much bigger team. We played a tremendous match tonight with a few holes here and there. It could have gone a different way, maybe or maybe not.”
Donoho’s Corey Phillis finished with 21 kills, 20 digs and three blocks. Jordan Ray had 10 kills, 26 digs and three blocks. Rylee Segrest recorded 46 assists, 22 digs and three blocks.
Ashley Clingan had 27 assists for Jacksonville, and Courtney Bowden added 20.
For a young Donoho team, Saturday showed the back-to-back 1A state championship Falcons can compete against biggest competition. The Falcons defeated 2A Pleasant Valley and 4A Alexandria.
“I could, to quote other coaches, that we don’t play for county championships, we just play for state, and I think this is outside the norm for what it could be, when a 1A school gets in a county championship,” Slay said. “The one thing I will say is I’m extremely proud of my team. We were against probably overwhelming odds I would say because of the size of their team physically.”
For Jacksonville, the Golden Eagles were able to overcome adversity in the semifinals after dropping the first set to third-seeded Oxford 25-8 before winning the next three 25-14, 25-23, 25-15. They also rallied after losing the first set to Donoho.
“We had a really tough match with Oxford and took a beating from them in the first game, but I liked how we responded. It would have been easy to have called it a day, but we didn’t,” Clark said. “That took a lot out of us and I was worried about us maintaining a level of play when we got to the finals. The main thing I’m proud of is they were hurting, but they sucked it up and played through the play.”
Donoho and Oxford will have a chance to avenge their losses Tuesday when the three teams face each other in a tri-match at Oxford High.
Brandon Miller covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575 or follow him on Twitter @bmiller_star