Lady Tigers fall to Faith Academy in Elite Eight opener
PELHAM – Hartselle had more wins than six of the seven teams in the state tournament at the Pelham Civic Complex Wednesday morning.
It didn’t matter much, however, as the Lady Tigers became the first Class 5A team knocked from the Elite Eight after losing to Faith Academy 20-25, 25-21, 22-25, 25-18, 15-11 in the quarterfinals.
Hartselle was making a bid for a third trip to the state semifinals against Faith Academy, a team the Lady Tigers beat just two weeks earlier.
The Lady Tigers won the third game 25-22 and looked ready to dispose of the Rams in the fourth game. Faith Academy won the final two games to oust Hartselle from the tournament.
“We started off strong, but I guess we just sort of fizzled,” said Hartselle head coach Tanya Lybarger. “I guess we’ll come back and watch the finals for the fifth year.”
Hartselle finished the season with a 48-23 mark after spending most of the season ranked in the top five in Class 5A.
Olivia Golden recorded 23 kills and eight digs for Hartselle, while Savanne Howard added 23 assists.
Howard also had two kills, a block and 10 digs.
Katie Clark and Kaylee Shelton added four kills each for the Lady Tigers.
Senior Chelsea Bennich, playing in her final match at Hartselle, had a team-high 32 digs.
“I just hate it for my one senior,” Lybarger said. “She has worked so hard all year and she’s been so encouraging. She just has the most thankless job there is. Nobody celebrates right after she makes a good pass. She’s going to be missed.”
Faith Academy’s Rebekah Reeves and Camry Johnson finished with 14 and 11 kills respectively.
The Rams were knocked from the tournament in the semifinals by Briarwood Christian after battling Hartselle to five games.
“This match was back and forth and it really was anybody’s match to win,” said Faith Academy head coach Jessica Rapier. “Hartselle is very competitive and they never get down. My ladies pushed through and they kept swinging hard. They really turned it on and that was the difference in the match.
“We were on a different level as far as adrenaline goes. We played with a lot more energy, a lot more intensity than when we played Hartselle back in the Shrimp Festival tournament a couple of weeks ago.”
Hartselle started the season with just 10 wins in its first 20 matches before hitting full-stride. The Lady Tigers won 38 of their final 50 matches before losing to Faith Academy.
“We had just three returning starters and there were four players that had stepped on the court (in Pelham) for the first time in the state tournament,” Lybarger said. “They have really improved throughout the year. That’s what you want to see from your team. They’ve stepped up from the beginning of the season to the end. They weren’t a very close group at the beginning of the year but by the end of the season they were as close as any group I’ve ever had. I’m so proud of them.”