Whitewater tops Starr’s Mill in five-set thriller for shot at McIntosh, state title

Whitewater celebrates beating Starr’s Mill in the Final Four. They will face McIntosh in the state championship match on Saturday at Marietta High at 1:30 p.m.

The state volleyball championship matchup is set after Tuesday night’s semifinals, highlighted by Whitewater’s thrilling five-set win (25-19, 22-25, 14-25, 25-16, 15-13) over Starr’s Mill. With the win, the Wildcats will now square off against McIntosh for the state title on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at Marietta High. 

How does it feel to be playing for the championship?

“Awesome, baby,” said Whitewater head coach Sandi Stein. 

Whitewater had already lost to the Panthers twice this year, once in the regular season and once in the region tournament, but they showed no signs of nerves. In the first set, they built up a lead that peaked at eight points at 19-11. Starr’s Mill chipped away at the deficit late, but the Wildcats claimed the first set 25-19. 

The second set followed a similar pattern with the ending reversed. An early back-and-forth pace saw the Cats pull in front by four points, and the Panthers rallied. Whitewater even held the lead from 9-8 all the way until 22-21. Digging out of a three-point deficit late, Starr’s Mill finally took the lead for the first time at 23-22, and Kayla Sloan clinched the 25-22 win with an ace. 

The Panthers continued building on the momentum to run away with the third set 25-14 and hold a 2-1 lead overall. 

Stein’s team has been building up their mental resolve to know that any deficit can be overcome, and that’s just what they did when they found themselves in a hole against Starr’s Mill. On the brink of elimination, they turned the match around. 

“We have been working very hard on being discipline and realizing that it doesn’t matter how much we give to the other team, we can always get more,” she said. 

The Cats shook off the lopsided loss in the third set and returned the favor. It was even early before they pulled away to win 25-16 and force a decisive fifth set. 

The final set was a beautiful finish as a rowdy crowd got their money’s worth. No team could take control, with the biggest least coming at just 11-8 in Whitewater’s favor. The lead swung sides throughout, and Starr’s Mill held it for the final time at 12-11. Whitewater pulled off two-straight points to lead again, and the Panthers tied it back up at 13-all. The Cats finished off the night with two more in a roll, the decisive blow coming on a block at the net for a 15-13 win and a trip to the state championship. 

McIntosh earned their spot in the title game with a straight-sets rout (25-13, 25-16, 25-20) of Buford. The victory keeps the Chiefs’ three-peat hopes alive. 

Stein’s game plan to knock off the champs is a simple one.

“Serve well, get them out of their system, and play our game.”

In Class AAAA, Sandy Creek lost in the semifinals to Blessed Trinity in straight sets. 

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