A three-set loss to Whitewater to begin Saturday’s state finalist play date at the Marist School — and the 2012 volleyball season — can take a toll for any team like the Lady Raiders, who graduated their top outside hitter and top middle blocker.
But Walton, winner of the last two Class AAAAA state championships, bounced back quickly from its loss to Whitewater. It had one of its better showings at the annual Marist play date, an event that consists of the reigning state champions and runners-up in each classification.
The Lady Raiders won their final three matches, beating Chattahoochee, Pope, and Harrison — all in straight sets. Whitewater, last year’s Class AAAA runner-up behind Pope, spoiled Walton’s chance at perfection with a 22-25, 25-22, 16-14 win.
“We got better as the day went on,” Walton coach Suzanne Fitzgerald said. “This was one of our stronger outcomes (at the Marist play date), because we usually lose a couple here. I know we have stuff to work on, but I was pleased with how we played.”
The Lady Raiders saved their strongest finish for the finale when they beat Harrison 25-22, 25-14 in a rematch of last year’s Class AAAAA final.
After coming back from six points down to win the first set, Walton served well in the second, forcing the Lady Hoyas to get out of sync and make serve-receive errors. With the score tied at 10-all, they broke the second set open with a pair of three-point service runs, followed by a two-point run that gave them 10 match points.
“I would actually like to thank Walton because they showed us some weaknesses and stuff that we need to work on,” Harrison coach Clay Taylor said. “We didn’t pass well at all and the girls knew it. Walton moved us around more than we were comfortable with, but that’s an easy fix.”
It appeared that the first set was going to be all Harrison when the Lady Hoyas started the match with a 6-0 service run. But Walton settled down just in time to generate a run of its own to get back into the set.
The teams were evenly matched until Walton made a late run to pull away.
The boost that seemed to spark the Lady Raiders in the second set came on set point in the first. Harrison appeared to have had the point won, but Walton setter Celeste Fitzgerald made a diving dig that and sent the ball back onto Harrison’s side of the court, where no one was covering.
“My god, that was a shock,” Fitzgerald said of her save.
The Lady Raiders continued their momentum by taking a five-point lead to begin the second set.
Jessica Sloan led Walton with seven kills and Chloe Cook and Morgan Patterson tied with six. Fitzgerald and Tori Ferguson combined for 20 assists.
Caroline Ostman had eight kills to lead Harrison, and Kelly Scott had 14 assists, six kills and three aces.
The Lady Hoyas were solid in their earlier matches, posting wins over Sandy Creek (25-22, 25-20), Eagle’s Landing Christian (25-10, 25-14) and St. Pius X (26-24, 25-17).
Ostman posted 29 kills for the day and led with 27 digs. Scott added 17 kills and Taylor Haskins ended up with 13. Libero Catherine Gallagher added 19 digs.
Three-time defending state champion Pope went 2-2 on Saturday, suffering from inconsistency.
But credit to the Lady Greyhounds, who lost six Division I-bound players to graduation from last year, they fought their way out of trouble in wins over Marist and Sandy Creek. Walton, however, was resistant.
Pope defeated Marist 25-21, 25-22 and had to rally from 10 points down in the second set. Its 8-25, 26-24, 15-11 win over Sandy Creek spoke for its self.
The Lady Greyhounds had a repeat first-set performance against Walton but gave the Lady Raiders everything they could handle in the second before falling 25-8, 28-26.
Pope ended its day falling to a more experienced Whitewater team, 25-18, 25-17.
Rachel Reynolds had her best offensive showing against Walton with 10 kills and had eight against Sandy Creek. Ashley Savransky had three blocks against Sandy Creek. Kristen Phillips led with seven kills against Marist.
In the third set of Pope’s match against Sandy Creek, Reynolds finished it off with consecutive kills and also started the third set with consecutive kills.