“They wanted it so badly”

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 1, 2005

MONTGOMERY– Sumter Academy’s volleyball team was so close to another state championship they could taste it. Unfortunately for the Eagles, sometimes “close” just isn’t close enough.

The Clarke Prep Gators roared back from 16-9 and 5-1 deficits to defeat Sumter in the championship match of the AISA Class A state volleyball tournament, held Saturday on the campus of Faulkner University. The Eagles had won Game 1 of the best-of-three match 25-22 and took leads in both Game 2 and Game 3 to put the state title in sight, but could not put away the stubborn Gators and finished as runners-up.

“I didn’t even know what to say to them,” said Sumter coach Marti Ball of the loss that left the heartbroken Eagles in tears. “They wanted it so bad… For me, this is the hardest thing I’ve been through as a coach or an athlete. You question everything you did or said, wondering if that might have made a difference.”

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The final was played in an electric atmosphere, with fans for both teams standing and cheering every point from either side of the Faulkner gymnasium. The teams lived up the moment, playing a thrilling match that showed both squads playing at their very best.

“I could not be prouder of them,” Ball said. “My girls did everything they could, everything we asked from them. They passed the ball better than they have all year. Their desire was amazing … If a couple of calls had been different, if a couple of balls had dropped just an inch or two one way or the other, everything could have been different.”

Which is not to say at all, Ball points out, that the Gators won on luck.

“Clarke Prep are very, very worthy champions,” she said. “The two teams couldn’t have been more evenly matched.”

That evenness is why the title match was the third of the day between Sumter and Clarke Prep. The two teams had played in the double-elimination tourney’s opener, with Sumter prevailing 15-11 in the decisive game of a back-and-forth three-game match to send Clarke into the loser’s bracket.

But the Gators fought their way back to face the Eagles again, needing to defeat Sumter in two consecutive matches to claim the title.