If volleyball can be compared to boxing, then last night’s 6A volleyball state championship match would be considered a 15-round heavyweight slugfest. Two talented powerhouses—the Allatoona Buccaneers and the Sequoyah Chiefs—gave all they had for 5 sets of exciting play, with the Bucs emerging as the ultimate victor. They came, they saw, they left with the championship—their first in volleyball.
Both teams were so equally matched that it seemed like the match could go either way at any given moment. The Chiefs started the first set strong, jumping out to a 12-5 lead, causing Coach Joseph Soley to call a timeout. “We started out making some mental errors in the first set and we finally settled down in the second,” Coach Soley said. Although Sequoyah won the first set 25-21, it was a wake-up call to the Buc girls.
The second set could have been a mirror image of the first, with Allatoona coming out on top. The score was even the same, just in the opposite direction. The Bucs won the second set 25-21, with tough over-the-net play from Chamblee Russell and O’Neice Roberts. Coach Soley said, “Our players stayed focused and started making better decisions and we won the second set.”
The third set was the turning point for Allatoona. “Winning the 3rd set was probably the key to our match. We either go down 1-2 or go up 2-1. After winning a 29-27 3rd set battle I knew the momentum was in our favor,” Coach Soley said. While it may have been apparent to Coach, it was nerve-wracking for those in attendance, on both sides. When the Bucs outlasted the late-set surge by the Chiefs, it was exciting and worrisome at the same time. The Bucs entered the fourth set winning 2-1.
Unfortunately for those in the Buc faithful, the fourth set did little to quell that worrisome feeling. The Chiefs fought hard and won the set 25-17. “I knew Sequoyah was not going down without a fight,” Coach said. Knowing that a shortened fifth set lay ahead of them, the Bucs took the break between sets to re-focus. “We are in our team huddle heading to the 5th set and I can hear our seniors say ‘We got this, let’s go finish business.’ We came in with our briefcase and went to work during the 5th set,” Coach said.
And work they did, the Bucs started the fifth set like a team on a mission. They played brilliantly, taking the lead 10-4 at one point. They quickly finished the Chiefs off 15-12 to win their first state title.
Coach Soley was reflective and grateful after the win: “You can’t make this up. I am so happy for our players, our parents, school and community. Tonight I was blessed with two Angels. One was Rhys Howard. Rhys is the son of our Athletic Director Amie Howard who tragically lost her son in late September. As a team we all wore black ribbons with #playforRhys. I know he watched an incredible match. So blessed for a strong AD that supported us through these tough days. Our second Angel was my Assistant Coach Matthew Kempf. Matt came on board this year and our players responded immediately to his coaching philosophy. I don’t think we could have done this without him. It was like a miracle that he happened to know volleyball and he kind of fell right into our lap. So I am honored to have him our our staff.”
He was also appreciative of the fight given by Sequoyah: “I want to thank Sequoyah volleyball for such an amazing match. I feel that our 5-set match was one of the most epic state finals matches in history. Most finals end 3-0 but not ours. We gave the crowd one heck of a show. We all know that Sequoyah is in our same region (6-AAAAAA) and we got beat three different matches. Four times a charm. The best team that showed up at today was going to win the match.”
Congratulations to the Bucs and Coach Soley. You deserve it and you made us proud! Great work!