FOR A ground-breaking group of Jefferson seniors, this is almost a fitting homecoming of sorts.
After finishing as area runners-up to Athens Academy, Jefferson returns to its own gym to host the first-round of the state tournament today (Wednesday) as a no. 2 seed for the first time ever.
Jefferson (31-9) faces Landmark Christian (27-21) at 6:30 p.m.
Senior setter Amanda Daniel said this team has marked two major items off its to-do list: earn at least an area runner-up banner and bring a state tournament match to the Dragons’ home floor.
“We got to do both of those, so we’re really proud of ourselves,” Daniel said.
Coach Mike Paul said this sets up a special night for a group of Jefferson seniors that has won over 100 matches in their careers and holds all sorts of school records.
“This group is very special,” Paul said. “They deserve that. They deserve to be there at home. That was one of our goals for the year was to get to this match so that we could play at home … So we’ve reached a lot of our goals this year.”
One of those was to beat Athens Academy, but Jefferson fell short of that in the Area 8-AA/A title match Saturday in a best of five contest.
“Of course we were disappointed,” Daniel said. “That was like our no. 1 goal. As long as we’ve been here, we wanted to beat 'Acad.' We had the opportunity to do it, and we were playing well, we just didn’t pull through. But we were glad we at least beat them in one game.”
The finals loss was Jefferson’s third match of the day. The Dragons opened Saturday with a loss to Athens Academy in the semifinals but rebounded with a win over North Oconee to earn a rematch with the Spartans in the finale.
“I just think we got beat by a better team,” Paul said. “They’re a good team, and I thought we played really well all day. (Saturday), they were a better team than us.”
Jefferson dropped the first two games 25-17 and 25-18 but rebounded with a 25-22 win in game three before losing 25-16 in game four.
Not to be to overlooked, however, is Jefferson’s 25-12, 20-25, 25-23 win over North Oconee to get to the area finals. Not only did it ensure that Jefferson would host a first-round state tournament match, it came against a very familiar foe.
“It’s always emotional when we play them,” Paul said. “Our girls, their girls, it’s always a big rivalry. We just rose to the challenge there in that third game and did the things we had to do, when we had to do them and that’s important.”
Which is something Jefferson has done all season long in a 31-win campaign.
Daniel points to the chemistry that exists between this team loaded with seniors, including four — Daniel, Cassie Metcalf, Taylor Cramsey and Eden Starnes — that have either started or contributed regularly since their freshmen years. She said the Dragons’ off-the-floor rapport makes this such a close unit on the floor.
“There are a lot of teams we play that seem to fall apart because they tend to get angry with each other and stuff,” she said. “We’re all really close friends. So it really serves as an advantage. It’s basically like a family on the court.”
Now that family takes the next step with hosting a state tournament match today (Wednesday).
Daniel hopes the atmosphere will be electric for the home-standing Dragons and uninviting for visiting Landmark Christian. After all, there’s no air conditioning in Jefferson’s venerable, old gym.
“We’re already planning on doing a white-out and everything,” Daniel said. “So we’re all really excited. We hope it will really give us an advantage, us all being in the heat. Because we’re definitely in an advantage with that — other teams play in the air conditioning — and then having our fans here.”
Statistical leaders for Saturday’s three matches were Metcalf (seven aces, 22 kills seven digs), Amanda Daniel (five aces, two kills, 72 assists), Taylor Cramsey (four aces, 27 kills), Eden Starnes (one ace, 17 kills), Sarah Wood (three aces, 12 kills, 10 assists) and Savanna Holland (three aces, 13 kills).
Daniel and Cassie Metcalf made the all-tournament team.
The Jefferson volleyball team advanced to the Saturday rounds thanks to a 25-17, 27-29, 26-24 win over George Walton Thursday in a match filled with long rallies and numerous lead changes.
Jefferson took the lead in game one on solid serving and won 25-17 with Starnes recording five kills. In game two, George Walton won 29-27 as it refused to let the ball hit the floor as they “ran down ball after ball way off the court,” according to Paul.
“Every point seemed to cross the net five and six times,” he said.
In game three, the drama continued with the multiple ties and lead changes as the Dragons edged George Walton 26-24. Metcalf solidified the defense while Cramsey and Wood combined for 10 kills (five each).
Statistical leaders against George Walton were Metcalf (six kills, one assist, two digs), Daniel (four kills, 28 assists, one block), Cramsey (three aces, 16 kills, one assist, one block, one dig), Starnes (six kills, one dig), Wood (nine kills, one assist, one block) and Holland (four kills, one assist, three blocks).
Jefferson had six players named to the 8-AA/A North all sub-area team: Amanda Daniel (first team), Taylor Cramsey (first team), Cassie Metcalf (first team), Eden Starnes (second team), Sarah Wood (honorable mention) and Savanna Holland (honorable mention).