By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
WEST POINT —
When April Hays called Taylor Terry up to the varsity squad in 2010, the Holly Pond volleyball coach saw a terrified sophomore who felt inadequate compared to her teammates.
But when Hays looks at the senior now, two seasons later, she only sees a winner. In fact, she sees an entire court and bench full of winners.
Led by a hard-hitting, do-a-little-bit-of-everything performance from Terry, as well as fabulous net play from Taylor Rowell and Natasha Holcombe, the Broncos defeated Cold Springs in two sets and then held off a feisty West Point squad in a three-set championship thriller to win back-to-back Cullman County Volleyball Tournament titles.
Terry went wild for 17 kills, nine digs, five aces and a solo block in the championship match on a Thursday night where she was selected as the county’s Most Valuable Player for a second straight year. She joined Good Hope’s Allison Nail (2003-04) as the only county volleyball players to earn the honor twice.
“Taylor is a unique player because she can play anywhere. I can always depend on her to be the one to go to and come through,” Hays said. “When she sets her mind to do something, she’s going to do it. She’s going to spend extra time in the gym and work hard till she improves her game, and that’s what she’s done.”
Top-seeded Holly Pond hadn’t lost a match to a county opponent heading into the tournament, but the host Warriors came within a few points of changing that.
The Broncos started the title tilt by winning the first set 25-17 and then watched as West Point capitalized on seven unearned points to claw back even with a 26-24 second set.
That set the stage for an intense final frame, which Holly Pond pulled out by a narrow 15-12 margin. Lexy Malone went sky high and unleashed a monster kill — her only one of the match — to ensure the trophy stays with the Broncos for another year.
“It feels great,” Terry said. “It feels like our hard work has paid off, all those summer workouts that we do. Just reaching one of our goals.”
Although Terry had the hot hand, it took a full team effort for Holly Pond to earn the victory. Rowell came up big with eight kills, six digs, four aces and two block assists, and Holcombe was exception up front with three kills, three solo blocks, three block assists, three digs and one ace.
Other Bronco contributors were Kristen Sparks, 31 assists, three digs and one ace; Rachel Finley, four digs, one kill and one block assist; Kaitlyn Stephens, eight digs and one ace; Abby Gambrill, seven digs; and Lexi Lynn, six digs.
“This is a special group of girls. They all get along really well, and they all have one goal,” Hays said. “They want to win. They want to get that prize at the end.”
Terry could pinpoint exactly what it is about this squad that has allowed them to bring home consecutive county championships.
“We’re all best friends. We love each other, and we love to spend time together,” she said.
West Point might not have wound up victorious, but it didn’t go down without a fight. The Warriors began Day 2 with a hard-fought, two-set victory over Good Hope and then eliminated Cold Springs in two sets to earn a shot at Holly Pond.
They were able to ride the momentum of those two victories all the way to the end, as the entire team came together, gave the eventual champs a run for their money and nearly forced the if-necessary title match.
“I thought out team played very hard in every match,” West Point coach Regina Jones said. “They never gave up, and it showed. I am very proud of our team and how they played.”
Despite the loss, Jones had no problem giving credit where it was due.
“Holly Pond’s got a really good team,” she said. “They are undefeated in the county for good reason.”
Erica Laidley kept the Warriors going strong with four kills, four digs, two blocks, one ace and one assist in the team’s sixth and final match of the tournament, while Katie Wright did a great impersonation of a gardener with eight digs and one ace. Cassidy Hollaway pitched in five digs, three assists and one kill.
Holly Pond and West Point were both well represented on the All-County Team with three selections apiece. Terry, Rowell and Holcombe made it for the Broncos, while Laidley, Wright and Madison Rusk earned the honors for the Warriors.
The other seven county players named to the top squad were Karlee Perdue and Brittany Hopkins, Cold Springs; Julia Creel, Fairview; Katie Fuller and Kendra Pearson, Vinemont; and Katelyn Bishop and Kayla Scott, Good Hope.
See below for capsules and stats from the rest of Thursday’s action:
% West Point 2, Good Hope 0: The Warriors began their long Day 2 with a lengthy two-set victory — 25-23, 25-21 — over the Raiders.
Rusk closed out the first set in style, miraculously digging a speeding spike from Scott that somehow graced the line to give West Point the early lead.
The Warriors’ top contributors were Laidley, eight kills, six digs, two assists and one block; Rusk, four kills, four blocksand two digs; Wright, six digs, two aces and one kill; Amanda Miller, four kills, three digs and two aces; Lexi Bell, nine assists; Hollaway, seven assists; Taylor Vest, two kills and one block; and Jeri Beasley, two kills.
Good Hope’s top contributors were Scott, 10 kills; Bailee Andrews, four passes and three kills; Rachael Shannon, six kills, four passes and two aces; and Hannah Smith, eight sets, two passes and one kill.
% Holly Pond 2, Cold Springs 0: The Broncos handed the Eagles its first loss of the tourney in a 25-19, 25-18 winner’s bracket match.
Holly Pond’s top contributors were Terry, seven kills, six digs, four block assists, two aces and one solo block; Malone, six block assists, two kills, two digs and one solo block; Rowell, six kills, six digs and one solo block; Holcombe, four aces, three kills, two block assists, two digs and one solo block; and Sparks, 18 assists.
Cold Springs’ top contributors were Perdue, four kills, four aces and four assists; and Hopkins, six aces, four kills and three digs.
% West Point 2, Cold Springs 0: The Eagles never recovered from their loss to Holly Pond, allowing the Warriors to advance with a 25-15, 25-11 victory.
The Warriors’ top contributors were Laidley, three kills, two blocks and one ace; Bell, six assists and two aces; and Hollaway, five digs, three assists and one kill.
Cold Springs’ top contributors were Perdue, four kills, four assists and two aces; and Katie Self, five kills.
% The Times’ sports writer Jake Winfrey contributed to this report.