October 24, 2012

A new definition of success

Southeast Whitfield volleyball moves on to quarters

Tuesday’s third game was the most important one of the season for Southeast Whitfield volleyball.

How the Lady Raiders handled it led to the biggest win in school history.

With the support of a spirited student section, Southeast defended its home court against Jonesboro, 25-15, 18-25, 25-19, 25-20, to advance past the second round of the state playoffs for the first time in program history.

The Lady Raiders (33-10) — the Area 7 champions and the second-ranked team in the Class 4A coaches poll — move on to the Class 4A quarterfinals, which are set for Saturday. The Lady Raiders will learn their seed for the next round, as well as their opponent and match location, after a seeding meeting today in Atlanta.

Southeast was in the second round of state for the fifth time in coach Jake Dickey’s seven-year tenure, and the breakthrough came after three straight years of disappointment in the round.

“I told them I was so proud of them, because, for one thing, we’ve never done this before,” Dickey said. “Another thing is to be down big in the third. We had two ways to go. We could’ve cashed it in or we could’ve chose to fight. And we fought back into it.”

After splitting the first two games, Jonesboro took a 6-1 lead in the third before Dickey called a timeout. The 10th-ranked Lady Cardinals (32-8) stretched the lead to 10-3, pushing the Lady Raiders into a hole.

“When we got down ... I think everyone had a dark moment and was like, ‘Oh man,’” Dickey said. “They started rolling and I was a little worried.”

But Dickey believes his team’s response was a defining moment.

Six straight Southeast points led to a Jonesboro timeout and a standing ovation from the crowd. With Southeast behind 13-11, senior setter Hannah Graham made a diving dig, one of her 29 in the match, to keep the play alive; it resulted in an assist from her to senior outside hitter Megan Collins for one of her 19 kills.

“That was a major confidence booster for us,” said outside hitter Serena Ramsey, who had six kills in the match.

Southeast finally took the lead at 17-16 and again at 19-18 as the Lady Raiders won eight of the final nine points — a Wendy Perez ace was the winner as the Southeast crowd stood in anticipation — to claim the third game and seize every ounce of momentum with only one more game victory needed to win the match.

“If we win that one, then we have two (game wins) and they only have one and it puts the pressure on them,” Collins said. “So it was nice to put the pressure on them.”

In the fourth game, the Lady Raiders raced out to 11-4 and 15-7 leads before the Lady Cardinals started to trim the deficit. Jonesboro scored five straight points before Dickey called a timeout. Southeast extended a 15-12 lead to 20-13 before Jonesboro again scored five straight points. After splitting the next four, Southeast held a 22-20 lead.

Graham assisted to Collins for a kill, Jonesboro had an unforced error and Graham assisted to Yolanda Melgarejo for the clinching kill.

The Lady Raiders — who also lost in the second round in 2006, Dickey’s first year leading the program and the team’s first appearance in the state playoffs — now have a deep state run to go with back-to-back area titles.

“This is a good team,” Jonesboro coach Paul Cook said. “There’s a reason they are the No. 1 seed in their area. ... That’s one of the best teams we’ve faced. ... We’re not in a strong (area), so by far that was one of the best teams. We hope we kind of helped them get ready for their next step.”

The Lady Cardinals’ size advantage caused some problems for the Lady Raiders. Kim Dawkins, a 6-footer, collected 17 kills and Ashley Hand, Briana Benson and Michaelle Smith combined for 16 kills to lead Jonesboro.

Southeast’s tallest players with the highest verticals — Melgarejo and Perez, both 5 feet, 10 inches — combined for 14 kills as Jonesboro’s net players blocked or tipped a lot of kill attempts.

“We haven’t played a team as athletic as them,” Dickey said. “Every one of their girls was way (taller than us).”

In the first game, Southeast trailed 3-2 before scoring 10 of the next 13 points to coast to the win.

It was completely different in the second game. The Lady Raiders led 8-4, but the Lady Cardinals went on a 12-4 run to hold a 16-12 edge. Southeast trimmed it to 19-18 before Jonesboro scored six of the final seven points to tie the match at one game apiece.

“The very first game we just came in and didn’t play,” Cook said. “The second game we looked like our team. The third game I think we got a little comfortable when we got the big lead, and they were hungry and kept coming and didn’t let up.”

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