By Nicholas Crompton
COVINGTON, Ga – Last Saturday, Eastside’s volleyball team took second place after a crushing defeat against Woodward Academy in the Area 4-AAAA tournament finals in four sets at Hampton High School.
This loss did not deter coach Maggie Johnston, however.
“I’m very pleased with how we are playing right now,” Johnston said, “They are in a good place where they are working together and communicating and winning that first set against Woodward meant that we can come back from a loss which showed me just where the team is at mentally.”
That’s important, given the fact that Eastside still is alive on the postseason. The Lady Eagles (27-14) will face Shaw (16-24) at 1 p.m. Saturday in the first round of the Class AAAA state tournament, held at Academy of Richmond County in Augusta.
Thanks to its action during day two of last week’s tournament, Eastside should be battle tested for a Lady Raiders squad that’s playing arguably some of its best volleyball of the season right now.
Shaw will come into Saturday’s match as winners in three of its last four matches, with its only loss coming in straight sets to Columbus which, according to MaxPreps.com, is the No. 7 team in the state, regardless of classification.
In the area finals last week, Eastside went up against their toughest opponent of the tournament in Woodward Academy.
As the first set of the finals started, both Eastside and Woodward went point for point before Woodward shifted momentum in its favor and took set one, 25-20.
Set two Woodward used the momentum from the previous set to score a 25-16, utilizing an early 7-1 to take control. Eastside was not able to come back from that start. This put the Lady Eagles in a hole which helped them set the stage to show that fight Johnston spoke of it.
They’d bounce back to win, 25-23 before falling in the final set.
Despite the loss in the area tournament, Johnston and her team did get some good news as far as postseason accolades go, with three of her players, Abby Walters, Lillian Fowler and Taylor Adams being named first-team all area.
“Those have been three girls who’ve just been all-around players for us,” Johnston said. “They’ve been very consistent for us and really just been a part of the starting lineup since day one.”
She added that Adams, a sophomore, may have shown some of the biggest strides individually this season, but she’s hesitant to point out any one player, noting that she’s witnessed the entire team get stronger as the season went on.
“When you talk most improved, maybe you think Taylor Adams because she started slow with an injury,” Johnston said. “But honestly, the entire team has really been stepping up.”
In Shaw, Eastside will face a young squad that places just one senior on its roster. But what the Raiders lack in experience they make up for in length and athleticism.
Players like 5-foot-10 junior, Sydney Thomas leads the Raiders in kills with 134 and blocks with 48. Jerica Jackson, another 5-foot-10 junior, is second on the team in both categories with 93 kills and 23 blocks.
But with difficult matches and come-from-behind attempts behind them as recently last weekend, Johnston believes her team is well past the point of being intimidated by any other team.
“I think it all just shows that we’re ready for state and that we can go and fight and make a run.”
*Sports editor Gabriel Stovall contributed to this report.