Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 27, 2005

YORK–The Sumter Academy Eagles will have their shot at reclaiming the AISA Class A state volleyball championship. But they might get some stiff competition from their neighbors up the road.

The Eagles crushed Jefferson Christian and turned away a game effort from the Warrior Academy Braves in Tuesday’s AISA Class A Regional tournament to claim their spot in the state finals.

Sumter has dominated AISA volleyball, taking among other titles the 2001, 2002, and 2003 state championships, but fell to Clarke Prep and Open Door in last year’s state tournament to finish third. They look to reclaim their crown at this year’s finals, to be held at Faulkner University in Montgomery this Saturday starting at 10 a.m.

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“We’ve got a good group of girls,” says Sumter head coach Marti Ball. “Hopefully things will go well for us this Saturday.”

But Sumter won’t be the only area team competing for the top spot. They’ll be joined by Warrior, who finished off Jefferson Christian in two games, 25-20 and 25-16, to grab the second spot out of the regionals.

“I’m very proud of them,” says first-year Warrior head coach Haley Thompson. “they’ve done an awesome job.”

“Sumter and Warrior had advanced to the regionals by finishing as champion and runner-up, respectively, at the Area tournament held at Sumter last Thursday. The Eagles and Braves advanced at the expense of teams like 2004 state runner-up Open Door and Southern Academy, which had defeated Sumter in a tournament match earlier in the season.

When the two teams met Tuesday, it was with a guaranteed berth in the state tournament on the line. Sumter had blitzed Jeff Christian in the regionals’ first round, winning Game 1 25-6 and Game 2 25-7, while Warrior sent East Memorial Christian to the losers’ bracket with their own two-game win.

Sumter took a quick 4-0 lead behind three aces by Alley Rundles, but a Keshara Moore block and Tricia Langham serve helped the Braves took the next five points. Back-to-back kills by Sumter’s Brandy Walden tied the game at 8 before Warrior went on a 10-2 run to turn an 11-10 deficit into a 20-13 lead. Moore strung together a series of blocks and spikes and after two aces by Ashley Clements, the Braves were on the verge of a surprising Game 1 win.

But Sumter had too much. After siding out Clements, the Eagles’ Kate Derby rattled off five straight aces. Warrior took a point to go up 21-19, but with Moore rotated to the back line Sumter’s attack got going and a pair of kills by Angie Tanner (one coming after a remarkable dig by Walden) finished the game at 25-21.

Game 2 followed a similar script. The Braves jumped out of the gates to a 7-0 lead behind emphatic spikes from Moore and a six-point serving run by Langham. But again Sumter responded, Kate Derby’s service boosting the Eagles into an 8-8 tie. A kill by Crystal Clements was the first of three straight points for the Braves, but after Warrior’s 12-9 lead 16 of the next 21 points belonged to Sumter. A Rundles ace gave the Eagles a 15-14 lead, Walden kills pushed it to 21-17 and then 23-17, and Brittany Bishop served out the game at 25-17. Even the Eagle gym did its part in the run: one Sumter dig deflected wildly out of bounds but bounced off the gym rafters back onto the Eagles’ court, resulting in the point that put Sumter up 18-16.

Warrior shook off the loss, however, to defeat Jefferson Christian a second time and book their trip to Montgomery. Thompson says that despite the final outcome, she was thrilled with her team’s performance against the favored Eagles.

“Even though they lost, they stayed in the game the whole time and just did a great job,” she says. “That’s the best I’ve ever seen them play.”