Cass entered the title match of the Bartow County Volleyball Championships on cloud nine after an exhilarating win over Woodland. It didn't take long for Cartersville to send the Colonels crashing back down to earth.
Behind the sensational serving of Grace Hunter, the Canes scored the first 15 points of the opening set to grab control early and ease to a 25-8, 25-20, 25-10 victory.
According to Cartersville head coach Dutch Cothran, it's the 14th consecutive time the Canes have won the tournament title. With this year's results following last year's perfectly, Cass finished second, Woodland placed third and Adairsville came in fourth.
"You tend to play harder against people you know," Cartersville head coach Dutch Cothran said. "We like all these ladies. It's not like we're big enemies or anything. It's people we know and we all like, and it's fun to get together in a gym to play people you know. It's up to you to stay focused."
Hunter had eight aces during the 15-0 run to begin the finals. Nedu Evans had three kills, Anna Grace Brock added two and Hunter added one kill for good measure during the dominant start.
While the Colonels eventually ended the run, the Canes held a 22-3 lead before the tourney hosts made the final scoreline more respectable, thanks in part to consecutive aces by Alexis Ware. However, Evans ended the set emphatically with her sixth kill of the set.
It was clear during the set that fatigue had set in for Cass. The Colonels were playing in their fourth match of the day — while the Canes were in just their third — and Cass had just survived a tough, three-set match with Woodland to reach the championship.
"I think even in that last match with Woodland, the third set, you could see it coming on," Cass head coach Alan Potter said. "Their energy level dropped. ... Once we hit Cartersville, knowing we had to play [best three out of five], it was rough physically."
Cothran was pleasantly surprised to see his team take advantage of the extended break, which the Canes earned after beating Adairsville and Cass to start the day.
"We can sit and lull ourselves to sleep," Cothran said. "... Sometimes [the break] works for us, and sometimes it doesn't. Today, it felt like we were rested and focused when we came out to start the finals."
After the brutal opening set, Cass recovered in the second. The Colonels again fell behind early — this time by a 9-2 margin after Evans' third kill of the set.
Cass, which was led by Blaire Waters' five kills and two aces, weathered the storm and pulled within five points on several occasions. It took until right near the end for the Colonels to draw any closer.
After trailing 21-13, Cass rattled off five consecutive points to pull within 21-18. Cartersville, though, answered the bell and closed out the set with a kill by Hunter.
The Canes again opened up a sizable early advantage in the third set, easing to a 10-1 lead. Evans had two of her match-high 18 kills in the run.
Cass never managed to get closer than six points the rest of the way with Cartersville's Anna Grace Brock, who had five aces and three kills, ending the match on consecutive aces. Even still, Potter felt his team showed a lot of promise Saturday, defeating Woodland twice and playing a few tough sets with Cartersville.
"Our attitude in practice this week was let's not get behind and have to fight our way back every single set," Potter said. "Sometimes we can do that, but more often than not it's just too much, especially with teams like Woodland and Cartersville or even Adairsville, which we didn't get a chance to play today. If you keep getting behind like that, you're going to get beat.
"The girls picked up on that, and they really did well. They showed a whole lot of improvement. ... I think that will work well, going forward into the rest of the season. I think that improvement will help us out and make us a stronger team with more victories."
Cothran would probably warn his counterpart that he's seen days like this before. His team has produced some good results this season, but they have followed it up with some head-scratchers.
Having won the county championship for the second time in his short stint with Cartersville, Cothran hopes Saturday is a sign of his team finding the consistency that every seem in the area seems to be chasing.
"I felt like it's a step in a good direction," Cothran said. "The thing is we've been making a good step and then taking a step back. ... The really big matches, we've not played as well as I would have liked for us to. I think, if we can get a win in one of those big matches, it will remind the girls that they're pretty darn good and we'll be better moving forward."
Cass 2, Woodland 1
Cass handed Woodland its second loss of the day to eliminate the Wildcats and advance to the championship match in a thrilling three-setter.
The Colonels eked out a 25-22 win in the first set, but the Wildcats responded with a 25-20 triumph in the second.
In the decisive third set, Cass jumped out to a 4-1 lead. Woodland responded to take an 8-7 advantage before Cass rattled off eight of the next nine points for a 15-9 win.
"We didn't play well the first two matches at all," Condon said. "We played hard; we just didn't play well. We played a lot better [in the last match]. You have to give Cass a lot of credit, because they played really hard and played pretty well. We played relatively well in the second set, but I felt like in the third set we gave up down the stretch."
Makina Gorham had three aces in a row to take Cass from a 10-8 edge to a healthy 13-8 lead. Woodland head coach David Condon called a timeout before the first ace and again before the third, but his team was unable to respond to either one.
"I definitely felt like we had the momentum," Condon said of his team winning the second set. "I felt like we had the momentum through part of the third set, but then we went through a stretch where we had no good attacks. ... They took the lead, and it felt like, to me, the girls just gave up. I called two timeouts within like four points, but they still weren't getting after it like they were the first two sets. It's tough to explain."
Serving was a huge boost to the Colonels in the match with Gorham (six), Keegan Krause (five) and Blaire Waters (three) each recording multiple aces. Krause added team-highs in kills (four) and digs (two). Alexis Ware also came up with some huge kills in the final set.
Macey Vaughn produced a double-double in a losing effort. She had 10 digs and 10 assists with three aces and three kills, as well. Sydney Molinaro's excellent effort also went for not, as the sophomore stuffed the statsheet with six kills, seven blocks and five digs. Caroline Gore contributed four kills and six digs to the cause.
Cartersville 2, Cass 0
Cartersville advanced to the championship match with a straight-forward victory over the hosts by scores of 25-18 in both sets.
The Canes saw Grace Hunter dish out 34 assists and pile up five aces that set the tone early.
"I feel like we did a great job serving tough against Cass," Cartersville head coach Dutch Cothran said of the match. "We seemed to be able to serve our zones consistently."
Nedu Evans paced the Canes with 14 kills, while adding eight digs and three aces; Anna Grace Brock had six kills, nine digs and two aces; and Anna Mathis had a dozen digs.
Blaire Waters had three kills, and Alexis Ware added two in the match. Harmony Carr led the Colonels with two aces.
Woodland 2, Adairsville 0
Woodland eliminated Adairsville with a 25-16, 25-20 win after each team dropped its opening match of the day.
Caroline Gore and Noelle Dickey paved the way for the Wildcats. The former piled up six kills, six digs and an ace; the latter posted five aces, five digs and three kills.
Macey Vaughn doled out nine assists and picked up five digs.
Adairsville finished the day 0-2 to remain winless on the year.
Cartersville 2, Adairsville 0
Cartersville got off on a winning note, despite a sluggish start to Saturday's opening-round match with Adairsville.
The Canes outlasted the Tigers 25-20 in the first set before cruising in the second by a 25-7 margin.
"We were more focused and played with more intensity," Cartersville head coach Dutch Cothran said of the second set. "I think Set 1 served as a wake up call. Adairsville was very scrappy today and kept a lot of points alive. They seemed to have improved since we played them earlier at home."
Nedu Evans predictably led the way with 18 kills, six digs and two aces. Anna Grace Brock contributed seven kills, nine digs and three aces. Grace Hunter produced 29 assists and added three aces. Anna Mathis matched Brock with nine digs of her own.
Cass 2, Woodland 0
Blaire Waters racked up eight kills and two aces in helping Cass earn a hard-fought, straight-set victory over Woodland in the first round Saturday.
Keegan Krause added four kills, three aces and two digs for the Colonels in the 27-25, 25-18 win.
Sydney Molinaro and Macey Vaughn did everything they could to keep Woodland in the match. Molinaro had five kills, four blocks and three aces. Vaughn produced 15 assists, five digs, three aces and two digs.
Emmaline Payne chipped in with six kills, nine digs and an ace.