Even in a county known for excellence in many sports, volleyball is truly one of Fayette’s finest pursuits. Look no further than Wednesday night when Whitewater hosted McIntosh in the Final Four of the state playoffs, the Chiefs punching their ticket to the title game with a 3-1 victory (25-19, 16-25, 25-16, 27-25).
The Chiefs and Wildcats seem to bring out the best in each other on the court. This was the fourth meeting for the county rivals this year, McIntosh claiming the first two before Whitewater won in the region title match. As good as the first three editions were, this one went to another level, pushed further by a loud crowd well aware of the importance of every point.
“It was unbelievable. We knew it was going to be a really hard-fought match,” said McIntosh coach Wendy Mabon. “We just really needed to come in and play our game, which we did, and not get sucked into trying to play like Whitewater, but to play the way we play best.”
Toppling the Cats gives the Chiefs a shot at another crown against a great opponent. Making their fourth appearance in the finals, McIntosh will aim for their third state title against Buford. The Wolves are 40-4 on the year.
“Buford has a similar game plan to Whitewater,” noted Mabon. “If we can keep playing defense like this, we’re gonna have some fun in the state finals.”
McIntosh knows the formula that has gotten them this far, and they are confident it makes them a formidable foe in the finals.
“We have incredible ball control and a very dynamic offense, so we need to be patient and not try to force those opportunities and wait for them to actually come and then take advantage of them,” said Mabon.
The Chiefs were opportunistic from the outset in the semifinals, biding their time until they could make their move. The first set started in back-and-forth fashion, a theme that would be revisited throughout the night. Whitewater grabbed their largest lead at 6-3 on an Anjelina Webb kill. McIntosh responded with a 6-point run, forcing the Cats to call a timeout to cool off the momentum.
After Whitewater narrowed the gap, they fell into a patch of errors that opened the door for the Chiefs to build up a 19-12 advantage and force another timeout. A big block at the net by Emma Fulton and Webb and a flick by Megan Brubaker were part of a run where the Cats narrowed the gap to 20-18.
McIntosh calmed themselves down and scored five of the next six points, the last coming when Whitewater’s last shot hit the flag, in a 25-19 first set win.
The Chiefs built on that momentum early in the second set, building up a 4-0 lead behind the serve of Caroline Cameron. Whitewater started chipping away at the gap, eventually tying it at 7-7 before surging in front. A McIntosh timeout would temporarily stop the slide, but the Cats were on the attack, growing the lead all the way to 14-9 on a Destinee Langston block. Whitewater kept up the pressure, never letting the Chiefs get much closer. They finished off the set with Anjelica Webb saving a shot far out of bounds that Anjelina Webb would drill for the final point, tallying a 25-16 win to even up the ledger.
The third set followed the same pattern, but with the Chiefs seizing control in the middle and not easing up. Carrington Terrell got the Cats back within 18-15 late, but they would get no closer. A pair of Brianna Beccera aces widened the gap, and an Elise Mackanych block was the final blow in a 25-16 win.
The teams saved the best for last in a thrilling fourth set. Neither squad could muster more than a two-point lead at any point, the lead switching back-and-forth as the tension in the air grew. After Whitewater pulled in front 15-14 on kills from Terrell and Emily Sweatman, the Chiefs answered by Nell Copeland setting up Avery Chaffin for the tying kill. They pulled ahead by one before the Cats ripped off three straight points to force a McIntosh timeout. From there, the lead would not stay long on either side.
Whitewater held a slim 23-22 lead when they thought they capped off a long rally with a Sweatman drop shot that looked to find the court, but the Chiefs were ruled to have kept it alive, tying it again. Cameron got the Chiefs back in front with a tip shot. The Cats foiled match point with a Terrell kill that just found the line.
Whitewater would serve the ball into the net, setting up the Chiefs for victory, but Anjelina Webb pulled them back from the brink for a 25-25 tie.
McIntosh stayed focused, going ahead by one, then finished off the night with a block, sending the team into euphoric celebration with a 27-25 victory.
For the night, Caroline Cameron lead the Chiefs in kills with 11, followed by Jessie Doyal with 10, Elise Mackanych with 6, and Shelby Doyal with 5. Shelby Doyal lead in blocks with 4, followed by Avery Chaffin with 3. Olivia Stewart posted 24 digs, followed by Brianna Beccera with 17, Cameron with 14, and Nell Copeland with 10. Copeland tallied 19 assists, and Lynsey Hamblin added 15.
The loss stings for the Wildcats, but it should be just the start for a talented squad led by coach Sandi Stein. Anjelina and Anjelica Webb will graduate with Camryn Williams and Emma Fulton, leaving a ton of talent behind, including a pair of sophomore towers in 6’2” Jenna Bishop and 6’0” Carrington Terrell, along with junior libero Anna Marie Benson. The Chiefs also return a host of key contributors next year, so this won’t be nearly the last time this two teams meet with major implications on the line.
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