A fired up Madison Hayes let out a yell accompanied by a fist pump after a thunderous spike early in the first set of the District 6-AA volleyball championship between her East Hamilton team and host Hixson Tuesday.
Hayes and the Hurricanes rode that heightened intensity, along with complete domination at the net, to a 3-0 victory over the Wildcats 25-15, 25-20, and 25-21. Hayes — who recently committed to play basketball at Mississippi State University — was named tournament Most Valuable Player.
“We came out with a high level of intensity and energy,” said Hayes. “They're a really great team and we respect them, but I feel like we wanted it more tonight. Everything we do starts with our passers; they work hard every single game. Without them we wouldn't be able to get the sets or hits that we need.”
The match got off to a strong start for East Hamilton. Up 8-6 after practically trading points with Hixson to open the first set, the Hurricanes rattled off eight points in a row to open up a ten-point lead. The Wildcats would never pull much closer as East Hamilton took the first set easily.
“Taking control in the first set has been a struggle for us all season,” said first-year East Hamilton coach Kelsey Kelley. “Our challenge tonight was to come out from the get-go and go hard. We wanted to go all out, even in warm-ups, hitting hard, being loud, and getting pumped. Our goal was to come out aggressive in every phase of the match.”
While Hayes might have won the MVP, the difference in the match was found in the Hurricanes front line, led by Hillary English and Maddie Allen. The pair had five blocks each, but the stats don't tell the full story, as they combined to control the net by altering the attack of the Wildcats and limiting their offensive aggressiveness.
“It was huge for us to get early momentum because when we do that we do a much better job of talking throughout the game,” English said. “Communication is the most important thing in volleyball. You have to know what you're doing as a hitter, setter, passer, and a blocker. Making sure everyone is in their spots so that the whole court is covered is huge.”
After their slow start in the first set, Hixson — led by senior Abby Rector — found a groove early in the second. Down by three points, the Wildcats scored five straight points to take their first lead of the match at 6-4.
East Hamilton answered, however, going on a six-point run of their own to wrestle the lead right back. The Wildcats stayed within striking distance, but never had a legitimate chance to steal the set as the Hurricanes took a commanding 2-0 lead.
Showing resiliency, the young Hixson team — who has only three seniors — came out swinging in the third set. A back-and-forth affair, there were five ties and four lead changes in the set, and neither team pulled ahead by more than four points.
The Wildcats held a late 19-17 lead and looked poised to take the third set and breathe life into their championship hopes. Those hopes would be dashed, however, as the Hurricanes closed on an 8-2 run to win the match.
“It says a lot about this team, especially with how young we are,” Hixson coach Robert Catlett said about his team's performance in the third set. “In that first set I tried a different lineup to try to slow down Madison Hayes. It worked okay, but we went back to a more familiar lineup for the final two sets and it went a lot better for us.”
English had perhaps the most impressive stat line of the night for East Hamilton. Not only was she a force at the net, she was the primary setter and did a spectacular job all night. She finished with 22 assists, four kills, four digs, and an ace to go along with her five blocks.
Madison Hayes had 12 kills and 12 digs for the Hurricanes, while Allen had nine kills and McKenna Hayes chipped in six. Haley Mangrum had 25 digs, while Meg Lewis had 18 and Emma Ankar had 11. Allison Giles had three kills, four digs,and three assists.
Rector led the Wildcats with seven kills, 11 digs, and three aces. Ava Rogers had six kills, while Riley Bellamy and Kirby Brown had three each. Makenna Seitz had 16 digs, and Gabby Tench had 19 assists.
East Hamilton-Madison Hayes (MVP), Hillary English, Maddie Allen, McKenna Hayes, Allison Giles Hixson-Abby Rector, Gabby Tench, Ava Rogers, Riley Bellamy
Central-Olivia Rawl, Taniya Crowder, Carmen Crabtree
East Ridge-Savannah Aymon, Meagan Hiu (East Ridge)
EAST HAMILTON 3, HIXSON 0
East Hamilton 25 25 25
Hixson 15 20 21
Highlights: EH — Hillary English 22 a, 5 b, 4 k, 4 d; Madison Hayes 12 k, 12 d; Maddie Allen 9 k, 5 b; McKenna Hayes 6 k, 5 d; Haley Mangrum 25 d, Meg Lewis 18 d, Emma Ankar 11 d, Allison Giles 3 k, 4 d, 3 a. H — Abby Rector 7 k, 11 d, 3 aces; Ava Rogers 6 k; Riley Bellamy 3 k; Kirby Brown 3 k; Makenna Seitz 16 d, Gabby Tench 19 a; Jenna Westfall 3 aces; Anna Johnston 7 d.