The conclusion of the fall sports seasons of volleyball and cross country saw the crowning of several local programs as state champions. Some programs featured achieved the ultimate goal for the first time while others continued their winning legacies.
In volleyball, Pace won the Georgia High School Association (GHSA) Class 3A state championship with a 3-0 (25-21, 26-23, 25-20) win over Westminster at McEachern High in Powder Springs Nov. 2. After dropping two matches to the Wildcats in the regular season, the Knights were able to exact revenge and earn their third championship in program history.
Ada Agolli had a team-high 14 kills and teammate Lucy Ferry posted 13 for Pace. Sasha Ratliff had a team-high six blocks and nine kills for the Knights. Other statistical highlights for Pace were Dominique Turner’s team-high 13 digs and Kalissa Greene’s team-high 31 assists.
“The biggest factor was all our starters being healthy,” Pace coach Anna Bush said. “We struggled at times throughout the regular season due to various injuries and illnesses. We really did not get everyone back until just before the semifinals. That said, Kalissa played in the championship with a broken finger. Her will to compete outweighed the intense pain she suffered throughout that match. If Kalissa is on the court, it ignites the entire team.
"Defensively, Dominique took charge in the backcourt as she usually does, but Morgan Neill had one, if not her best, match of the year - especially serving. Hannah Pace played much better than when we faced Westminster for the first time in August. I felt these three and Taylor Knowlton had to play better than Westminster's backcourt and they did.”
The Knights were the second seed from Area 4AAA and defeated Kendrick, Ringgold, Cherokee Bluff, Greater Atlanta Christian and Westminster to earn their third consecutive state title.
“To win three state championships in a row is special,” Bush said. “It's really a tribute to the hard work and talent of our upperclassmen. They have put so many hours in the gym and the results speak for themselves. The Pace community has been so overwhelmingly supportive of our program. It is very gratifying to see how far we have come in the nine years I've been here.”
St. Pius X placed second in 4A, dropping its championship match to Blessed Trinity 3-1 (21-25, 24-26, 25-15, 25-27) at Marietta High Nov. 2. Lura Underwood had a team-high 14 kills, Emma Farrell posted a team-high 30 digs and Ava Pitchford dished out a team-high 27 assists for the Golden Lions in the loss.
The GHSA state cross country championships were held in Carrollton Nov. 1 and 2.
The Wesleyan boys’ team won the Class A Private state title for the second straight year. The Wolves finished the team competition with 69 points. Individually, Wesleyan was led by Mac Howie (fourth) and Stafford McDaniel (seventh). Holy Innocents’ was second with 97 points, with Joe Sapone finishing sixth individually. Whitefield was sixth in the team event led by Devin Wade’s third-place finish in the individual standings.
“Our team ran a very patient race and executed the strategy to perfection,” Wolves coach Chad McDaniel said. “I am extremely proud of how hard they worked this season and with such purpose toward a singular goal, but I am most thankful for how they continually make an investment in each other, in the sport and in our coaching staff. They put together a total team effort and were able to get the win.”
The Holy Innocents’ girls' team won its first state championship in program history. The Golden Bears had 66 points, led by top-10 individual finishes from Reese Newmann (fourth), Hayden Puett (seventh) and Reese Martin (eighth).
“All of them stepped up and ran their best,” Holy Innocents’ co-head coach Stephen Jayaraj said. “The name of the game is to peak at state, (and) to say the least we did just that.”
Cara Joyce of Atlanta International placed second and teammate Reagan Mahoney was fifth individually in the race to help the Eagles earn fifth in the girls' team competition. Wesleyan was third.
The Westminster girls’ team won their seventh consecutive state title and 32nd overall in the Class 3A competition. Mira Srinivasa won the individual competition for the Wildcats with a time of 19 minutes, 49.17 seconds, followed by teammate Palmer Walstad in second at 20:08.81. Janie Cooper placed fifth.
Pace was second with 55 points, with Lauren Arenth and Payton Payne earning fourth and sixth individually, respectively. Lovett finished third at 89 points with Ellie Wildman and Sydney Lamberson earning seventh and ninth, respectively.
Westminster’s boys team also won the Class 3A state title for the third consecutive year and 28th time in program history. Zach Roe placed fifth and Matthew Fernando ninth individually for the Wildcats, who had 74 points.
“These seven guys never gave up even after we were beaten at the region meet on our home course,” Westminster boys coach Joe Tribble said. “They trusted their training at the state meet and ran their best on the day. A coach could not ask for more. I am proud of them and the rest of the team they represent a fine season.”
Pace was second in the team competition with 76 points, led by a third-place finish by George Adams individually. Lovett earned third in the standings at 101 points, with Jackson Borden gaining fourth.
St. Pius X swept the Class 4A team competitions. The boys’ team earned its second consecutive championship and 11th overall. The Golden Lions had two top-10 individual finishers with Chad DeWitt third and Patrick McDonald ninth.
The girls’ team won its fourth championship in program history with three individuals in the top-10 individual standings: Morgan Vaden (fourth), Catherine Breault (fifth) and Mary Brady (seventh). Marist was third in the team standings.
Other local finishes of interest included Anna Robbins placing ninth individually for Atlanta Classical in the Class A Public girls’ competition, Riverwood’s Eli Hoppenfeld earning seventh in the Class 5A boys’ standings and Ele Mezzio finishing third for the Raiders in the girls’ competition.