By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
WEST POINT —
Even with her Holly Pond volleyball team holding the top seed in the Cullman County Tournament, April Hays knew better than to take No. 4 Good Hope lightly.
That’s probably because the rivals have accounted for the last 12 county titles — eight for the Raiders and four for the Broncos if anyone’s keeping track. And also most likely because it’s never smart to count out a squad coached by Rosemary Brown, who won her 900th career match just last week.
But by the end of a three-set thriller in the second round on Tuesday, Holly Pond was still alive and well in the winner’s bracket, while Good Hope was left to try its luck in the consolation bracket.
Hays was right to take the Raiders seriously, though.
After dropping the first set 25-19, the Red and White battled back to win the second 25-22 and even held a 13-11 lead in the deciding set before the Broncos pulled off four straight points to seal the deal. Lexy Malone had back-to-back blocks to give Holly Pond the late lead, and Natasha Holcombe put the match away with a monster kill.
“Good Hope is one of those teams where they don’t ever quit,” Hays said. “I knew it was going to be a tough match. They played hard.”
Despite the loss, Brown wasn’t about to complain, especially considering the way the Broncos had walloped her squad twice in September.
“It was a big match because the last time we played them, they beat us really bad,” the coach said. “My team is improving, and I’m excited because we’re getting better. We’re really young, so things started out slow, but we’re getting better.”
Taylor Terry, last year’s Most Valuable Player, led the way for Holly Pond with 10 kills, 10 digs, three solo blocks, two aces and one block assist, while Taylor Rowell recorded eight kills, seven digs and three aces. Malone came up big with three solo blocks, three digs, two kills and an ace, and Holcombe pitched in five kills, three solo blocks, two digs, one ace and one block assist. Kristen Sparks was more than helpful with 27 assists and four digs.
The Raiders received big-time contributions from Kayla Scott (10 kills and three aces) and Kaylee Maddox (10 kills, seven sets and four aces), as well as Katelyn Bishop (seven kills and one block) and Rachael Shannon (five kills and five blocks). Hannah Smith was also good for 13 sets and four passes.
With a first-round bye, the defending-champion Broncos were done for the day following the victory. They got to sit back and relax while Good Hope, West Point and Fairview all tired themselves out with three matches on Tuesday.
“That’s good for us only having to play one and then come back and play out the winner’s bracket, we hope,” Hays said. “That’s where we want to be. We want to be setting in that position where somebody has to beat us twice.”
The first team that will get a chance to beat Holly Pond even once will be Cold Springs, which recorded comeback victories over Fairview and West Point to advance in the winner’s bracket.
In the second-round match against the host Warriors, the Eagles overcame a 25-20 loss in the first set with too-close-for-comfort 25-22 and 15-12 scores in the last two. Karlee Perdue and Brittany Hopkins nailed kills on the final two points to close out the match.
“Our goal from the beginning has been to not defeat ourselves,” Cold Springs’ coach Cantrice Voce said. “It was nice to see they decided to push hard and win those last two sets on both matches.”
Hopkins beasted up the court with seven kills, four aces and three digs, just barely edging out Perdue’s 10 assists, six kills, three aces and two digs. Katie Self had four kills.
West Point’s contributors were Madison Rusk, six kills, two blocks and one ace; Erica Laidley, four kills, one block and one ace; Amanda Miller, four kills and two aces; Katie Wright, 20 digs and one ace; and Jeri Beasley, three kills.
Voce is hoping that taking down a Class 5A squad like the Warriors will build confidence for her 2A Eagles.
“We haven’t been successful as a varsity team in this county tournament in years,” she said. “When I say years, I mean years. They just need the confidence to know they can compete with the bigger schools in the county.”
Holly Pond and Cold Springs will hit the court Thursday at 3 p.m., one hour after Good Hope and West Point square off in the consolation bracket.
The Raiders’ rebounded from their loss to the Broncos with a two-set victory versus Fairview, while the Warriors’ tournament continued with a three-set squeaker over Vinemont.
Hanceville, Fairview and Vinemont were eliminated with two losses apiece on Tuesday.
The consolation bracket final will take place Thursday at 4 p.m., and the winner’s bracket championship will follow at 5 p.m. The if-necessary championship match is scheduled for 6 p.m.
See below for capsules and stats from the rest of Tuesday’s action:
% Good Hope 2, Vinemont 0: The Raiders advanced to play Holly Pond with a first-round win — 25-17, 25-17 — over the Eagles.
Good Hope’s top contributors were Bishop, 17 kills and three blocks; Shannon, five kills and two blocks; and Smith, 15 sets and one ace.
Vinemont’s top contributors were Kendra Pearson, 17 hits and 11 blocks; Katie Fuller, five hits and two blocks; and Savannah McAlpine, five hits and one ace.
% Cold Springs 2, Fairview 1: The Eagles paved their path to a second-round date with West Point following a three-set battle — 25-21, 17-25, 15-11 — versus the Aggies.
Cold Springs’ top contributors were Self with eight kills and Hopkins with five kills, four aces and three digs.
Fairview’s top contributors were Melody Manasco with six assists and one ace, and Julia Creel with five kills.
% West Point 2, Hanceville 0: The Warriors moved on to the second round after a 25-12, 25-10 victory over the Bulldogs.
West Point’s top contributors were Miller with five aces and three kills, and Laidley with six kills, one ace and one block.
Statistics were not available for Hanceville.
% Fairview 2, Hanceville 1: The Bulldogs pushed the Aggies to the brink, but Fairview ultimately survived the scare, winning 25-15, 25-17, 15-12.
Fairview’s top contributors were Manasco with four kills and four aces, and Creel with four kills and one ace.
Statistics were not available for Hanceville.
% Good Hope 2, Fairview 0: The Raiders lived to fight another day and sent the Aggies packing in a 25-15, 25-17 outcome.
Good Hope’s top contributors were Shannon, nine kills, two blocks and one ace; Maddox, eight sets, seven aces and three kills; and Scott, nine kills and four passes.
Fairview’s top contributors were Manasco with three kills and three assists, and Taylor Edge with three blocks.
% West Point 2, Vinemont 1: The Warriors capped off the first day of the tournament with a come-from-behind 23-25, 25-19, 15-8 triumph.
The Eagles’ top contributors were Fuller, 23 hits, 10 blocks; Pearson, 15 hits and eight blocks; McAlpine, 10 hits and one ace; and Kiersten Simmons, 70 sets.
Statistics were not available for West Point.
% The Times’ sports writer Jake Winfrey contributed to this report.