It is often said that the only thing tougher than winning a championship is defending one. Several local prep volleyball teams have proven there can be exceptions to the rule.
Both Bayside Academy and Spanish Fort High School have added to their trophy cases with more state titles. Meanwhile, numerous area schools came close to being crowned at the 49th annual Elite Eight tournament in Birmingham.
No team in Alabama has ever accomplished what Bayside has done. Not only was it the 18th straight title for the Daphne school since 2002, but also the 28th overall.
According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, this ties the marks set by Bishop England High in Charleston, South Carolina. That streak was snapped two years ago.
“It has been crazy,” Bayside coach Ann Schilling told Lagniappe. “What these kids have been able to do under extra pressure every year has truly been amazing.”
In the final, the Admirals defeated Providence Christian School of Dothan 25-14, 25-15, 26-28, 25-15. Jacque Martin led the Admirals with 21 kills, 11 digs and three service aces to earn Class 4A state tournament MVP.
Outside hitter Emily Buhl had 12 kills and middle blocker Ella Broadhead had 10. Libero Luci Wilkinson led a strong defensive effort with 26 digs and Buhl had 16. Setter Breland Dailey had 46 assists and five digs. Wilkinson, Buhl and Dailey were on the all-tournament team.
The Admirals, who finished with a 56-12 record, had two seniors. They were outside hitter Jacque Martin, who has committed to play at the University of West Florida, and rightside attacker Catherine West.
Other juniors with Buhl and Dailey are middle blocker Anne Sterling Beall, setter Colton Thompson and defensive specialist Ava Best. Another sophomore this year with Wilkinson and Broadhead was outside hitter Caroline Chastang.
In 2018, Bayside became the first school in Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) history to win titles in 1A, 2A, 3A and 4A. Schilling said the Admirals may have a chance to extend that record in 2020.
“We will probably move up to Class 5A before going for another title,” she said. “First you have the private school rule multiplier, which is 1.35 per student enrollment. Then there is the competitive balance rule that had us playing in Class 4A the last two years.
“It is what it is. If we have to win in five different divisions instead of four, the kids have really bought into it. They will take on that challenge.”
Schilling was inducted into the Mobile Sports Hall of Fame in 2017 and was the National Federation of State High Schools’ Coach of the Year in 2010. As an athlete at McGill-Toolen Catholic High School, she helped the Mobile team to state volleyball championships in 1978, 1979 and 1981, plus in girls’ basketball in 1978 and 1980. She then carried her skills forward to play both sports at Auburn University.
In a rematch of the 2018 final, Spanish Fort defeated Hazel Green High of Madison County 27-25, 25-19, 21-25, 25-21 for the title. The Toros now have three state volleyball crowns, having won the first in 2015.
“We started the season out searching for ourselves,” Coach Gretchen Boykin told Lagniappe. “We lost five matches in the first two weeks of the season. After that we made some adjustments and we went on to only drop one more match the rest of the season to finish with a 72-6 record.”
Meg Brackhan became the first libero to earn MVP honors in the state tournament. The senior recorded 41 digs while also collecting seven assists.
“She dug everything put her way, refused to let their setter get a tip to the floor and passed in system so our team could run a great offense,” said Boykin, who was also a star player at McGill-Toolen before being an All-American at the University of Montevallo.
Senior outside hitter Avery Rodgers had 21 kills, junior outside hitter Kamble Frenette had 19 kills and senior middle hitter Mya Barnes had 10 kills to pace the offense. Senior setter Kayla Keshock had 48 assists and seven digs. Rodgers, Keshock and Frenette made the all-tournament team.
“I had seven seniors that did an absolutely amazing job of bringing our team together and making a family with no drama and so much love for each other,” Boykin said.
The remaining seniors were Corinne Stanton, Claire Morton and Audrey Miller. Other juniors were Tatum Beech and Sydney Taylor. Sophomores were Ridley Varden, Emma Claire Lee, Brianne Wigley and Janie Ellis. The only freshman was Bailey Hope.
McGill-Toolen’s hopes for a third straight title came up short as Mountain Brook took the final 25-21, 28-26, 25-23. The Dirty Dozen have 21 overall state titles, second only to Bayside.
McGill (39-10) totaled 89 digs with Katie Hemphill recording 32, Amelia Boykin 18, Skyler Bumpers 16 and Imani Nicholson 14. Nicholson also had 16 kills and Haley Palmer had 11. Boykin dished out 33 assists. Nicholson, Hemphill and Bumpers made the all-tournament team.
Baker High of Mobile lost in quarterfinals to Bob Jones 16-25, 25-23, 18-25, 27-25, 15-12. The Hornets finished with a 21-14 record.
Jasper High defeated Faith Academy of Mobile by a score of 25-16, 25-13, 25-18 in the title match to win its second straight trophy. The Rams finished with a 45-10 record.
Senior middle hitter Aaliyah Austin had 10 kills. Brinkley Hearn had nine assists while Sarah Phillips had eight. Kristen Mitternight led the Rams with eight digs. On the all-tournament team were Austin, Phillips and Hearn.
St. Luke’s Episcopal of Mobile advanced to the quarterfinals, where it lost to eventual champion Montgomery Academy by a score of 25-13, 25-23, 25-17. The Wildcats finished with a 39-11 record.
Cottage Hill Christian of Mobile lost in the quarterfinals to Sand Rock of Leesburg by a score of 25-21, 25-17, 25-23. The Warriors finished with a 14-11 record.
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