JACKSON It was a match to remember between the top two volleyball teams in Mississippi, with a consistently high level of play at both ends of the court. Second-ranked Hancock will remember it best after outlasting top ranked Oak Grove 25-27, 25-17, 18-25, 25-21, 15-11 for the MHSAA Class III championship.
“These kids are tough, They don't give up,” Hancock coach Rick Rechtien said of his team. “I kept telling them they could do it.”
To do it, the Lady Hawks had to overcome a 2-1 set disadvantage, a talented team with a decided height advantage and a disputed line call at a critical time in the first set.
With Hancock holding a set point at 24-23, Breleigh Favre hit a serve that was called in, despite a protest by Rechtien, who was only a few feet from where the ball landed. “I thought it was out,” he said. “But you know what? That's just part of volleyball.”
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Instead of a 25-23 first set win, the score was 24-24. After each team scored a point to produce the set's ninth tie at 25-25, Sinclaire Green put Oak Grove ahead with a kill and Favre followed with a game-winning kill.
Facing defeat, Hancock trailed for much of the fourth set before finishing on an 11-5 run for the win.
The decisive fifth set was tied at 1-1, 3-3, 4-4, 5-5, 7-7 and 8-8 before Hancock went ahead to stay. Fittingly, the final point came on a winning shot, not an error. Maddison Ladner rose above the net for an unreturnable smash, setting off a wild on court celebration by the Lady Hawks and their legion of fans who drove up from the Gulf Coast for the match at Millsaps College.
“When I went up I was nervous, but I knew I had it,” she said. “I had confidence because I knew it was there.”
This is the second state title for Hancock, the previous one coming in 2010. The Lady Hawks finish 36-3, including two early season losses to Oak Grove.
The Lady Warriors were led by Favre and Green, two very tall and very talented seniors.
“I don't know exactly how tall they are, but they're both over six feet,” said Oak Grove coach Celeste Vial.
“It's a big problem because we have a lot of shorter girls and they were hitting over the top of them,” Rechtien said.
His tallest player, Rylee Swilley, is 5-11 ½.
Oak Grove, which finishes 33-9, failed to win its first championship.
“It's very tough,” Vial said of the loss. “This was our final goal of the season. We had accomplished multiple goals.”