MARIETTA -- Pope never had a doubt.
Stella Dees recorded 11 of her 15 kills in the final two sets and the Lady Greyhounds tactically frustrated Allatoona in a four-set win (25-17, 15-25, 25-18, 25-21) Saturday in the Class AAAAAA state championship match.
Pope (40-9), which claimed its first state championship since a three-year title reign from 2009-11, was also led by nine kills from Eliza Dees, while Lily Harvey had eight from the middle-blocking position.
Allatoona’s Emma Ahrens dominated with 22 kills, and it was Pope’s lack of height, in contrast to Allatoona’s towering combination of Ahrens and Chamblee Russell, that stood out in the early going.
But where the Lady Greyhounds lacked in size, they excelled in fundamentals.
“We know we aren’t as big as everyone else,” Pope coach Shawn Darling said. “Our team motto has been all about heart. The thing is, we build on playing sharp defense and then our opportunities come from that. They buy in, they’re smart and they do everything we tell them to. It’s easy to coach girls like (Stella Dees) who are so smart and are always in the right spots, and then they turn that into points.”
Pope won the first set after trailing 13-8, then looked to have met its match when Allatoona (38-15) turned around and dominated the second. Then, the Lady Greyhounds responded by going up 6-1 to start the next set after the break, cruising to the set win and putting the pressure on Allatoona to win the next one.
The Lady Buccaneers went up 7-3, then rallied from three down to make it 21-all, but Pope turned it around and set up the match point when libero Ava Vikovic got an ace thanks to a friendly roll from the net.
It was the first state title for Darling, who took over for longtime coach Bryan Jones heading into the 2017 season. Last year, Pope reached the state semifinals before losing to eventual champion Harrison.
“For me, I won state as a player, but I think winning as a coach was more fun,” Darling said. “The fact that you are there watching a group of young ladies put in all of that hard work, and then seeing it pay off, is so rewarding.”
Allatoona was in pursuit of a title in its first state finals appearance, and with Russell returning next year, should be primed for another run.
Coach Joe Soley reflected on a landmark season for his program.
“They’re just a great group of girls. They’re great to coach,” Soley said. “We have a great fan base and did (Saturday). The love and support for this great team has been there all year.
“For us, we really kept setting goals. We wanted to win region. Then, we get into the postseason and the game-planning gets harder and harder, more intense, there’s more attention to detail, but we just kept pushing.”
Russell finished with 10 kills, while Annie Smith had five kills and three aces for Allatoona. Callie Miller added three kills, two blocks and an ace.