There was a different look in the eyes of the McIntosh Lady Chiefs. After two grueling matches against Starr’s Mill in the semifinals, the Chiefs were focused on regaining their Region 3-AAAAA championship crown.
McIntosh head coach Wendy Mabon noticed the intensity as well. As she gathered the team, she didn’t have to say much. It was understood that the final matchup against Whitewater would be all business.
“In the Starr’s Mill match, I think it was 22-22 in the second set and we came back and won,” Mabon said. “I told them that it is really cool to watch them decide that they can win it. When they decide that this one is ours and it’s not going another way, they take care of it.”
The Chiefs carried the momentum into the Whitewater match. After a narrow victory in the first set, the Chiefs ran away with the final two sets. They dominated behind a powerful offense and stingy defense. Whitewater was outscored 25-11 in set two and fell in set three 25-15.
McIntosh finished the season at 33-3 and undefeated in the region. The Chiefs won their second consecutive region championship and ran their winning streak to 21 games. Whitewater fell to 27-19 on the season.
McIntosh has relied on their defense all season. They lost just 10 sets and one in region play. The ability to turn lock down defense into offense helped them defeat Whitewater. Sophomore libero Claire Lewis set the tone with 18 digs. As a team, the Chiefs had 44 digs across the three sets.
“No one was going to let a ball drop as we were determined to get this win in three sets,” Lewis said. “We lost our whole defense last year, so we had to make a big change. Everyone stepped up to the challenge.”
McIntosh jumped out to a 10-3 edge in the first set before the Cats clawed back. The Chiefs got into gear with big aces from junior Jessie Doyal, and the aces ignited the offense as sophomore Erykah Lovett paced the team with 13 kills. She was benefactor of the offensive “slide” strategy that moved the middle attackers behind the setter.
The Wildcats couldn’t overcome the set piece. They tried to counter with a more aggressiveness at the net, but the Chief offense was overpowering as they rode another Doyal ace to the first set victory.
McIntosh’s depth was the difference maker in sets two and three. They jumped out to a 20-8 lead behind sophomore Ngozi IIoh and Lovett. IIoh had 10 kills in the game, including a big kill at the net to thwart a Whitewater run.
As a team, the Chiefs boasted a 52.4 kill percentage. Doyal handed out 38 assists and averaged 12.7 assists in the three sets.
“The ability to play together and work together allows them to have amazing team chemistry,” Mabon said.
In set three, the Chiefs jumped out to an early 11-4 advantage. It forced Whitewater to call a couple timeouts to halt the momentum. McIntosh ultimately put it away as the Wildcats sent a wayward shot wide.
The win gives McIntosh the top seed in the region. They will host a state playoff game at home on Saturday as the set out to repeat as state champions. Whitewater also hosts a playoff matchup at home.
Without a senior leader, McIntosh proved it can be just as dominant. Mabon believes the team’s experience as a unit will help them achieve their goals. Last year, she thought that maybe they could win. This season, Mabon knows the Chiefs can get this one done.
“I think it something that we set our sights on with state,” Mabon said. “We needed this one first and we were determined to get it.”
Around the county, five schools made the state playoffs. McIntosh hosts New Hampstead at home and Whitewater hosts Ware County. Starr’s Mill draws the No. 3 seed and travels to South Effingham. Fayette County and Sandy Creek will also be in action. Fayette heads to Statesboro while Sandy Creek gets a tough road matchup against St. Pius X.
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