McIntosh’s road to a three-peat is crystal clear now. The Chiefs fended off a fierce challenge from Starr’s Mill on their own court Saturday afternoon in a straight-sets win (25-21, 25-21, 25-11) to claim the region championship.
The Chiefs have their sights set on a third-straight state championship and fifth overall. At 31-1 overall and ranked in the top 100 in the nation, they look close to unstoppable.
“It feels good. This is where we wanted to be, and it’s where we felt we should be,” said McIntosh coach Wendy Mabon. “We’ve got our focus right, and we’re excited and ready to go.”
From the outset, Starr’s Mill showed they will again be a force. They finished as state runner-up to the Chiefs last year, and they want another shot at their rivals.
“It’s always a little nerve-racking coming in knowing that Starr’s Mill is good and out to get us, and they played real tough,” said Mabon. “It’s good to see our girls respond to the challenge and come through.”
The first set was a dead heat nearly throughout, with neither squad pulling away. McIntosh went on a mini-run to lead 17-12, and Starr’s Mill, behind the serve of Kayla Sloan, ripped off eight-straight points to surge in front 20-17.
The Chiefs battled back to a 20-20 tie, and the teams traded points until a Jessie Doyal ace and a miraculous Claire Lewis dig to an Erykah Lovett kill stole the momentum. Another Doyal ace wrapped up a four-point run to win the first set 25-21.
The second set started with flair as Lewis notched two aces for a 3-0 lead, and Starr’s Mill answered, taking the lead with a pair of Kayla Sloan aces.
The lead traded back and forth throughout the middle section of the set, with neither team leading by more than two points until McIntosh pulled ahead 20-17. Starr’s Mill charged right back within 21-20, but could get no closer.
The razor-thin margin got its largest in the set with McIntosh notching the final kill to win by four at 25-21.
The tone changed in the decisive third set as the Chiefs raced out to an 8-0 lead keyed by four Lewis aces.
“She’s got a wicked serve,” Mabon said of Lewis. “It set a tone that’s hard to come back from.”
Starr’s Mill kept clawing, but never could slice deep into the gap. Doyal notched a pair of aces as their lead swelled to 22-7. Fending off a brief rally, Doyal set up Alexa Markley for the kill in the 25-11 win.
Focus now turns toward the state tournament where McIntosh hosts Thomas County Central in round one, and Starr’s Mill hosts Warner Robins.
The county completed a clean sweep of the region’s four playoff seeds, with Whitewater claiming third and Fayette in fourth. Whitewater travel to play Harris County in round one, and Fayette faces Veterans.
The Sandy Creek Patriots are ready to reclaim their spot atop the volleyball food chain. Thursday night, the Patriots rolled through Cartersville twice to win the region championship on their home court.
At 38-5 overall and flawless in region play, the three-time state champions haven’t held the crown since 2012, but they’re ranked number four in Class AAAA and primed for a a title run.
They will open the playoffs at home against West Hall.