The McIntosh machine keeps rolling. Even a fierce challenge from Starr’s Mill Wednesday night could not keep the Chiefs from their goal of returning to the state championship match. A straight sets victory (25-16, 25-9, 25-17) has the Chiefs on the cusp of their third crown.
“It’s what we wanted and planned for all season,” said McIntosh coach Wendy Mabon. “We’re very excited.”
The Chiefs (30-3) have gotten better as the season has worn on. They have won in straight sets the entire tournament.
“They have fought back all year,” said Mabon. “Anything that’s been thrown at them, they’ve overcome.”
They’ve done it with a mixture of veterans and youth with six seniors at the top and sophomores and freshmen making up the bulk of the squad.
“We have a lot of young players, but they came in ready to challenge and compete with our seniors,” she said. “They push each other every practice, and it shows. They have really helped our level of play.”
McIntosh’s victory sets up a showdown with a familiar foe in Buford for the state championship. Both teams have been on a collision all season, and, like the Chiefs, the Wolves have yet to lose a set in the playoffs. Last year they lost to Buford in the title match, but the Chiefs are clicking like never before heading into the rematch.
“We just need to play our game. We need to not let Buford get in our heads,” said Mabon. “When we play like we can, I think we’re unstoppable.”
The Chiefs get their chance for revenge Saturday, October 28 at 1:30 p.m. at Marietta High School.
Wednesday night’s battle was a good test to get the Chiefs ready. Starr’s Mill opened the match in front, but the Chiefs surged with Casey Rashcen serving, taking the lead at 10-9. Continuing on a 9-1 run, the Panthers sought to slow the momentum with a timeout, but it didn’t keep them from pulling away for a 25-16 win in the first set.
The Panthers opened the second set up 3-1, only to see McIntosh rip off 11 straight points. The margin stayed wide as Lynsey Hamblin notched an ace and Jessie Doyal finished off the night’s longest rally with a beautifully placed spike just inside the corner. Freshman Ngozi Iloh’s kill finished off the second set 25-9.
The third set stayed close early. The Chiefs played catchup with Claire Lewis’s serve knotting it up at 6-6 and Olivia Stewart’s ace making it 8-8. McIntosh started to gain some cushion at 16-12 with a Finn Millians ace to force a timeout. They kept building as the Panthers called another at 22-16 to try to make a late rally. The Chiefs stayed strong, and Doyal notched the winning kill in a 25-17 set three win for a spot in the championship match.
Erykah Lovett led the Chiefs in kills with 14, followed by Ngozi Iloh with 10 and Reagan Corley with 8. Brianna Beccera and Finn Millians tied for the team lead in digs with 12 apiece. Millians posted 25 assists, and Lynsey Hamblin added 12.
“Congratulations to Wendy and her team,” said Starr’s Mill coach Walt Ellison. “They played great and kept us out of system all night. We couldn’t run our offense because of their serving.”
Starr’s Mill was led in kills by Kayla Sloan with 9 and Tessa Laney with 6. Jesse Echols and Laney each had 10 digs, with Megan Lee and Jessica Tomasello posting 8 apiece. Laney led the team in assists with 11.
The Panthers excellent season ends short of a bid for their second championship.
“Words can’t really express how proud I am of this team. Finishing the season in the Final Four is special,” said Ellison. “The girls worked hard all season to improve. The addition of Coach (Mary Katherine) Schmitz and Coach (Angela) Laney this year made a real difference as well. The girls responded to their coaching.”
Like the Chiefs, the Panthers are heavy on young talent with several sophomores and freshmen among their key contributors.
“We have a lot of young talent coming back,” he said of his team that started a junior, four sophomores, and a freshman. “The playoff run gives them valuable experience for next year. We have a few holes to fill, but the core of the team is back.”
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