Columbus will host second-round match next week
By DAVID MITCHELL
Members of the Columbus volleyball team said that, more than anything, the regular season was just preparation for the playoffs.
The preparation appeared to have paid off as the Lady Blue Devils cruised to a three-game sweep of Locus Grove in the first round of the Class AAAA playoffs on Wednesday at home.
With the win, Columbus (27-25) moves on to the second round where it will host No. 4 seed Northwest Whitfield, which upset top-seed Johnson-Gainesville.
"It's great," senior Mikayla Swinson said of moving on. "It just shows we worked really hard throughout the season."
Columbus utilized a resiliency it obtained throughout a rigorous regular season to withstand a number of rallies by the Lady Wildcats to win 25-15, 25-22, 25-19.
After a relatively painless opening game, Locust Grove gave Columbus all it could handle in the second.
Trailing by three points, the Lady Wildcats strung together seven consecutive points to take an 18-14 lead. When Columbus rallied, Locust Grove struck back. It held a 21-19 lead late in the game before the Lady Blue Devils scored five straight.
Columbus had an easier time in the third game, but still had to withstand a number of Locust Grove rallies. When Columbus went ahead 14-11, Locus Grove had an answer, battling back quickly to tie. After the Lady Blue Devils appeared to pull away with a 19-14 lead, Locust Grove came back to make it 19-17.
"We had to work for every point," coach Donna Fleming said. "That's how it is in the playoffs. This is where playing that difficult regular season schedule really helps us."
The players were able to relax in crucial situations, she said, because they have
been in similar situations all season long.
Behind late in the second game, her girls did not panic.
"The girls have just developed such a resiliency," she said. "They know they're never out of a game. When we fell behind in that second game, that battled back well."
Senior outside hitter Chandler Barre, who finished with 10 kills, two aces and three digs in the match, said those characteristics are learned throughout the season.
"I always tell my teammates that we are learning to fight before the playoffs," she said. "That's what the regular season does for us."
The whole team showed plenty of fight and emotion throughout its first round match. Barre, in particular, was fired up after a number of kills built momentum for her team.
"It comes out more in the playoffs," she said of the team's emotion. "That's something we work on. We've been working on our competitiveness in practice."
And, because of the quick three-game win, the team can maintain its energy and emotion going forward.
Fleming said it's hard to go deep into playoff matches and that she was glad the team was able to get out of the match early.
In addition to Barre's impressive performance, Columbus was led by Brianna Gogans (10 kills, four blocks and three digs), Natalie Twyford (five kills and three digs), Madison Fleming (28 assists, two kills, three blocks and five digs) and Swinson (19 digs).
Columbus will host Northwest Whitfield next Tuesday.
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571
Wednesday at Columbus
Locust Grove 15 22 19
Columbus 25 25 25
Leaders: Columbus-- Chandler Barre, 10 kills, 2 aces, 3 digs; Brianna Gogans, 10 kills, 4 blocks, 3 digs; Natalie Twyford, 5 kills, 3 digs; Madison Fleming, 28 assists, 2 kills, 3 blocks, 5 digs; Mikayla Swinson, 19 digs. Records: Locust Grove-- 20-17. Columbus--27-25. Next match: Locus Grove-- season over. Columbus--Oct. 23 vs. Northwest Whitfield.