The Alice Drive Middle School volleyball team won its second straight Sumter Middle School Conference championship tournament on Wednesday at the Sumter High School main gymnasium, defeating Hillcrest 2-1.
The Lady Hawks fell in the first game against Hillcrest 25-15, but bounced back in the second to win 25-13 and then survived the third, erasing a 3-point deficit late, posting an 18-16 victory, winning by two in the 15-point rubber game.
"We were down 11-9 and 13-10, but we were able to tie it at 14-14, 15-15 and 16-16 before we were able to get the last two points," said AD head coach Ann Caldwell, whose team finished with an 11-1 record, the only blemish a loss to Furman earlier in the season. "It was beyond exciting.
"It wasn't an easy match when we played them the first time," Caldwell said. "We came out victorious, but it was a battle then also."
Alice Drive, the top seed in the tournament, had a bye to the semifinals, where it made quick work of Furman, winning 2-0, 25-12, 25-4. Furman had defeated Ebenezer to advance to the semifinals, along with Bates, which defeated Chestnut Oaks. Hillcrest defeated Bates to advance to the final against the Hawks.
Caldwell said she was concerned about facing Furman again, having lost to the Lady Indians in the regular season; but she needn't have worried much.
"They were on their A-game," Caldwell said of her team facing Furman.
Hillcrest, however, presented more of a problem. Caldwell said that while Hillcrest didn't do a lot in terms of attacking, they were skilled at getting the ball back and forcing her team to win points and avoid losing them.
"They were able to constantly bring the ball back, which made our girls have to stay on their toes a lot longer," Caldwell said. "We noticed that Hillcrest pushed the ball deeper in the court, and we are constantly coaching our girls to do that if we can't get that bump-set-hit to hit it deep, and they were able to do that, which made my back row have to stay back.
"It's very easy, especially for a young team, to creep up and leave that back line open."
Caldwell credited strong play, particularly in amassing service points, from her tallest players, Zentrina Choice, Abbegale Bauer and Molly McMahon, the latter of which delivered the last three points in service for the Hawks, as well as her two setters, Lexi Richardson and Kristina Espiritu, in initiating good bump-set-hit attacks.
Caldwell said her team is laden with eighth-graders who will likely be among those playing for Sumter High next year. She said she will build next year's team around three seventh-graders that improved enough to earn spots in the rotation - Molly Brunson, Ashlynn Elmore and Grace Buessing.
Still, she said she was glad to have experienced players with a bit more size and strength to depend on in the championship match.
"When you get to crunch time, you've got to go with experience," she said.