MARIETTA, Ga. — On the wall of the Marietta High School gym, five words were written. “Home of the Blue Devils,” it declared.
On Saturday, no truer words could have been spoken.
The Columbus volleyball team topped Marist in four sets, 3-1 (25-17, 25-18, 19-25, 25-14), to win the Class AAAA state championship.
“I feel like I’m in a dream,” Columbus coach Donna Fleming said to Muscogee County system wide athletic director Gary Gibson, who was in attendance for the match. “It’s just so thrilling.”
“It feels surreal,” middle hitter Brianna Gogins stated a few minutes later.
It wasn’t a dream, only the end to a dream season in which Columbus went 43-14 and won its second title overall and first since 2007. Beginning with the ’07 title, Columbus has played in the finale four times. The win Saturday evened their record in the championship game at 2-2.
“Obviously, we’re happy to even up that record,” Fleming said with a smile.
For the first two sets of the match, it appeared the Lady Blue Devils would make easy work of Marist, which was the second seed among the final eight teams in the playoffs.
It went ahead early in the first and took complete control when it scored seven straight points to go ahead 13-7. A minor run for Marist brought it to within two points later in the set, but kills by Gogins and Brianna Gogins erased any hopes of a comeback for the Lady War Eagles.
The second set began inauspiciously for Columbus as it allowed seven straight points to fall behind 9-4, but it responded with four straight of its own and took control with a five-point run later in the set.
“We were aggressive,” Fleming said. “You have to be aggressive. You can’t win a championship without being aggressive. You have to go after it.”
The Lady Blue Devils dropped the third set, and memories of their thrilling victory over Sandy Creek in the semifinals understandably crept up. In that match, they had taken a two-set lead, but allowed the visiting Lady Patriots to win back-to-back sets and force a do-or-die final frame.
Gogins said they weren’t going to let that happen on Saturday.
“We didn’t want a repeat of Wednesday,” she said. “We wanted to come out and beat them and not leave anything to chance. Anything can happen in the fifth set.”
Instead, they closed out the match with a 25-14 thrashing in the fourth, clinching the title that Gogins said was theirs to win this year.
“This was our year,” she said. “We had to win it this year.”
Fleming praised the senior leadership and the experience drawn from the semifinals match.
“The leadership after we lost the third set was critical,” she said. “I think that match against Sandy Creek really prepared us for a fight. We didn’t lose our confidence, because we learned how to respond on Wednesday night.”
And respond they did.
Columbus was led by Gogins (19 kills, 4 blocks, 5 digs), Shardonee Hayes (10 kills, 1 block, 2 digs) and Madison Fleming (43 assists, 1 ace, 1 block, 7 digs.
Saturday at Marietta High
Marist 17 18 25 14
Columbus 25 25 19 25
Team leaders: Brianna Gogins 19 kills, 4 blocks, 5 digs; Shardonee Hayes 10 kills, 1 block, 2 digs; Natalie Twyford 6 kills, 1 block, 3 digs; Michelle Vatral 5 kills, 1 block, 1 dig; Brittany Griner 5 kills, 1 block, 2 digs; Ki’Anna Duncan 17 digs; Nancy Hatcher 16 digs, 1 kill; Elizabeth Hassenplug 9 digs; Kennedy Smith 4 digs, 1 ace; Madison Fleming 43 assists, 1 ace, 1 block, 7 digs. Records: Columbus, 43-14.