When the Columbus and Northside volleyball teams meet to play each other, they show their most intense game faces, because they are archrivals. But when the best of those Blue Devils and the best of those Patriots meet to pose for a photo, they smile appropriately, because they are being recognized for their achievements.
They split the top individual honors on the Ledger-Enquirer’s 2018 All-Bi-City Volleyball Team. Columbus senior middle blocker Tierra White is the Player of the Year. Northside junior outside hitter Nevaeh Edwards is the Offensive Player of the Year. Northside junior libero Berkeigh Davidson is the Defensive Player of the Year. Donna Fleming of Columbus is the Coach of the Year.
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This season, in 53 matches, she made 380 kills with an attack percentage (also called hitting percentage) of .444. To put that in perspective, the NCAA Division I leader, Santita Ebangwese of Syracuse, was at .425 as of Dec. 17.
White also compiled 74 aces, 86 blocks, 105 digs and four assists.
Her favorite memory of the season, White said, is the victory over Northside for the Region 1-AAAA championship. Last year, the Patriots snapped the Blue Devils’ streak of 13 straight region titles in a five-set thriller, but the Blue Devils recaptured the crown in a three-set sweep.
“That was big for us since we lost to them last year,” White said. “It’s always a big thing against Northside.”
White not only plays big in big matches, Fleming said, “she plays big all the time. . . . She’s mentally tough and physically tough, and she’s a leader. You want to set her on match point because you know she’s going to kill it.”
Capping her Columbus career by reaching the state’s Class AAAA semifinals makes her proud, White said. The Blue Devils lost in four sets to Marist, which then lost the title match in four sets to St. Pius X.
“I feel like we really, really, really could have won, but at least we got to the Final Four,” she said. “Last year, it was just the Sweet 16.”
White expects the Blue Devils to continue to be a championship contender.
“I can’t wait to come back and watch my teammates play and keep the legacy going,” she said.
Edwards, a first-team all-state selection by the GVCA, has committed to Mercer.
In 53 matches this season, Edwards compiled 448 kills, 58 aces and 195 digs. In 47 matches last season, when she was the Player of the Year as only a sophomore, she had 338 kills, 57 aces and 237 digs.
“I’m being mentally smarter with the game now,” Edwards said. “I’ve always been athletic, but when you have to make certain decisions in volleyball, you don’t have time for your focus to wander.”
Northside coach Lindsay Johnson said Edwards has “great power and plays with such energy and passion. She finds a way to score for us.”
Edwards said her favorite memory of the season was spending time with teammates during a trip to Arizona.
“Some of those girls on the team are my best friends,” she said. “We could have done better record-wise, but the competition was so good, and we improved so much.”
The Patriots finished 33-20 overall and runner-up to Columbus in the region. They won two rounds in the Class AAAA state playoffs, sweeping Druid Hills and Perry, before being swept by eventual champion St. Pius X in the Elite Eight.
With revenge against Columbus in mind going into next season, Edwards said, “I want to win the region and take the trophy back.”
In 53 matches this season, she compiled 450 digs, 56 aces and 53 assists. As the libero, she is Northside’s defensive specialist.
“I love being able to play defense and being able to take control in the backcourt,” Davidson said. “Volleyball has a lot going on, and it gets really crazy at times. But one of my old coaches used to call me a hippie because I was good in tough positions. I never freaked out or got nervous. I was just chill.”
Johnson called Davidson “the glue” that held the Patriots together this year.
“Without her,” Johnson said, “we would have struggled many, many more times. She’s all over the court. She reads well. She moves well. She busts her butt every day at practice.”
Davidson enjoys making diving saves and productive passes.
“It’s just awesome when you keep the ball off the ground and other people make something off of what you did,” she said. “I’m always on the ground.”
And she got the bruises as souvenirs.
“I started wearing elbow pads because they were so bad,” she said, “literally black and purple all the time.”
Davidson is proud of the Patriots for bouncing back from the disappointing losses to Columbus in the regular season and the regional final as they won two rounds in the state playoffs. Regardless of the result, she savors the memories of the atmosphere playing against the Blue Devils.
“The student section was packed,” she said. “It was the craziest thing ever. . . . It was just an ultimate experience. There’s so much tension between the two teams. I love it. It’s just awesome.”
As for playing in college, Davidson said she has “talked to several coaches. I’m hoping I can get a good offer.”
It takes a long sentence to list the highlights of the Blue Devils’ season: 44-9 record, Georgia Class AAAA Final Four, Region 1 championship, first place in the Blessed Trinity Serve for the Cure tournament, second place in the Sequoyah Classic and second place in the Lovett School Block Party.
Sifting through those memories, Fleming said her favorites are “winning the region championship and having only single-digit losses with a tough schedule.”
This was the eighth time in the last 10 years and 10th time in 16 seasons overall that Fleming has led the Blue Devils to the Final Four. They have reached the state championship match six times and have won three state titles under Fleming.
Despite falling short of their ultimate goal this season, Fleming said, “I’m proud of them for keeping our program at a high level.”
The foundation of that success, she said, is “the hard work of the players and the support of the parents.”
Although the Blue Devils won’t have White returning next season, they graduate only three seniors from this year’s team.
“One thing about coaching that is fun,” Fleming said, “is seeing the development of your players.”
LEDGER-ENQUIRER 2018 ALL-BI-CITY VOLLEYBALL TEAM
Thanks to Muscogee County School District athletics director Jeff Battles for coordinating the selection process. Coaches at each high school in the Columbus area were invited to make nominations, meet to discuss the nominations and vote on the selections.
Top individual honors
Player of the Year: Columbus senior middle blocker Tierra White.
Offensive Player of the Year: Northside junior outside hitter Nevaeh Edwards.
Defensive Player of the Year: Northside junior libero Berkeigh Davidson.
Coach of the Year: Donna Fleming of Columbus.
Libero: Columbus junior Sydney Blackmon.
Outside hitters: Northside senior Lauren Duncan, Harris County senior JLee Whearley and Columbus junior Savannah Ogle.
Middle hitters: Hardaway senior Dell Conley and Brookstone senior Antonia Nunley.
Setters: Shaw senior Maikayla Allen and Columbus junior Ashley Cox.
Brookstone — Lucy Laughbaum; Central — Morgan Ficklin; Columbus — Sydney James; Hardaway — Deyanna McKinney; Harris County — Taylor Scarbrough and Camryn Willis; Jordan — Lariya Lagrand; Northside — Hannah Patchin; Shaw — Cydney Thomas.
Mark Rice, 706-576-6272, @MarkRiceLE.