Not quite enough
Danville finishes 2nd at Elite Eight, falls to Montgomery Academy in three sets
Justin Schuver, Hartselle Enquirer
PELHAM–Now the Lady Hawks know how Montgomery Academy felt last year.
Montgomery Academy, the 2004 runner-up in Class 3A, came away with a 25-20, 26-24, 25-11 against Danville in the finals of the Class 3A Elite Eight Saturday.
The Lady Hawks advanced to the final game with victories over Winston County and West Limestone, but could not keep up with the Eagles. Montgomery Academy, ranked No. 1 in Class 3A for most of the 2005 season, won its first state championship in volleyball.
"We played tough," Danville co-coach Spencer Cole said. "We played really tough and I'm proud of our girls."
Danville and Montgomery Academy stayed close in game one of the finals, before the Eagles pulled away late. In game two, the Lady Hawks led late by a score of 22-19, but the Eagles showed their championship mettle, battling back to a 23-23 tie.
Montgomery Academy outscored Danville 3-1 over the next four points to take the victory. It was the first time at the Elite Eight that any team took the Eagles past the 25-point mark.
"I think definitely it affects your team," Cole said of letting Montgomery Academy come back in game two. "We needed that win pretty bad. When you lose a game two sometimes it's a must-win. I think we might have shaken their confidence if we had won that second game."
The Lady Hawks looked visibly shaken in game three, and the Eagles walked away with an easy 14-point victory. Danville did not help itself in game three, missing three serves and hitting several shots into the net or out of bounds.
"We made some missed serves. Every team's going to have some, but we probably had a few more than normal," Cole said. "We didn't have the blockers part of the time to block them. They had some good hitters. They're not as good as some of the teams we played during the regular season – teams like Hartselle and Austin.
"We knew we could play with them and sometimes it's just about how the ball bounces."
Juniors Lauren Simmons and Bethany Evans were named to the All-Elite Eight team. Simmons set a state record in the Lady Hawks' victory over Winston County, finishing with 47 kills in the four-set match.
She finished with 17 kills on Saturday, while Alaina Fitzgerald added nine. Evans provided 19 assists and six digs and Haley Hensley led the team with seven digs.
Danville's season ended in disappointment, but the future is bright for a Lady Hawks team that loses just one senior this season, Hensley.
"We'll miss Haley," Cole said. "She's our spiritual leader. She's real vocal and is on the floor a lot because she's in that libero position. She's done so much with the ability that God gave her and I think she's done as well as she can do.
"She's an integral part of the team and it will be tough to replace her but we'll also have somebody step up."
Hensley plans to keep her eye on the Lady Hawks next season, and will be there cheering the entire way if Danville makes it back to the Elite Eight.
"We were such a close team, but I can't think of a better group of people to go out with," Hensley said. "They're my girls. I'm not going to stop coming to watch them for anything. I love them to death."
Danville finished the year with a 59-19 record.
Lady Hawks cruise through first two days of Elite Eight
Danville was hardly challenged in its run to the state championship game, finishing with a 12-2 record in its pool play, quarterfinal and semifinal matches.
The Lady Hawks were the top team in Pool A in games played Thursday to determine the seeding of the Friday single-elimination Elite Eight bracket. Danville defeated Alabama Christian 14-25, 25-23, 27-25; Good Hope 25-11, 25-15; and Ohatchee 25-22, 25-23.
That 3-0 record in Pool A set Danville up in a Friday match against Winston County, a match where the Lady Hawks struggled at times.
Danville won game one 25-18 and looked as if it would have an easy victory in game two, leading 21-15 late. But the Lady Yellow Jackets battled back, eventually taking a 24-23 lead. Danville did not panic, and eventually squeaked ahead for the 26-24 victory.
"It was a little iffy there," Cole said. "We didn't play our best at all. We quit playing defense and we didn't play with a lot of spirit."
Winston County won game three 25-22, but the Lady Hawks left no doubt in game four of the match, knocking out the Lady Yellow Jackets with a dominating 25-11 win.
In the quarterfinal, Danville faced a familiar opponent in Area 15 foe West Limestone. The Lady Hawks defeated the Lady Wildcats every time they met during the regular season and in the area and region tournaments, but Danville wasn't taking anything for granted.
Every game was close as Danville defeated the Lady Wildcats in straight sets 25-22, 25-23, 25-22.
"We're glad we're not going to see them again," Cole said of West Limestone. "They fought their hearts out. Our girls, we used to find ways to lose those tough games and we've played so many close games now that we're conditioned to just expect to win."
In game two, the Lady Hawks had another late lapse, watching a 23-16 lead diminish to a 23-23 tie.
Danville got a break, as West Limestone missed a serve to make the score 24-23 and allow the Lady Hawks to win the game with a beautiful tip kill on the next point.
The Lady Wildcats led game three 18-17 at one point, but Danville would not be denied as the Lady Hawks moved past their area opponent and set up a match with No. 1 Montgomery County in Saturday's state final.
"We're going to have to play an outstanding match," Cole said of the Lady Hawks' chances to upset Montgomery Academy. "We'll need to play tough and hard-nosed defense. If we can play defense on them we'll be okay, but it's going to be a battle."