Canes’ state tourney run ends in semifinal defeat
Cartersville senior Rebekah Stevens looks to pass the ball, as teammate Anna Grace Brock looks on, during Tuesday’s Class 4A state semifinal match against St. Pius at The Storm Center.
The Cartersville volleyball team’s run in the Class 4A state tournament came to a screeching halt Tuesday in the semifinals against one of Georgia’s best teams in St. Pius X.
Facing the top-ranked team in the classification, according to MaxPreps, the Canes held a 10-9 edge in the first set at The Storm Center. However, the Golden Lions dominated from that point forward, scoring 66 of the match’s final 91 points, to claim a 25-16, 25-14, 25-5 victory.
“I feel like we played well,” Cartersville coach Dutch Cothran said. “I wasn’t really thrilled with the way we played in the third set. … I felt like, overall, we played well.
“We were pretty much playing a college team there. Every one of those girls who wants to play in college will be playing, and we have two who are going to play. All we could do was punch as hard as we could and try to absorb theirs, and I felt like we did a good job of that, for the most part.”
While the third set proved to be a disappointing end to a great season, it did allow Cothran to empty his bench. Every member of the varsity squad got to experience the first Final Four match in program history, and that can never be taken away.
“They went in and represented themselves well,” Cothran said of the reserves, who ran the gamut from promising freshman to rarely used senior.
Cothran said earlier in the tournament that no matter how or when the season ended, unless it culminated in a state championship, he would probably be depressed for a few weeks.
Hopefully, the ultimate result of his team’s season — which included a 26-12 record, a third-straight Region 5-AAAA title and the aforementioned historic berth in the semifinals — softens the blow.
“It’s going to be great,” Cothran said of how he’ll reflect on the season. “I have two state championship rings from Alabama that really mean a lot to me. Those teams really mean a lot to me. … That doesn’t change how I feel about this team. To have battled from where we’ve battled and to achieve what we’ve achieved is great.
“I talk to them a lot about being hungry, and I’m pretty filled by this season. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a little bitter taste in my mouth that makes me want to go further next year and a little further the next year. Just sitting back and looking at it, I’m very impressed with what the girls have done. They had a great season.”
The end result, frankly, would have seemed like a pipe dream for most people outside the program when the Canes got off to such a slow start. The combination of a difficult schedule and a struggle to find a reliable system hampered development early in the season.
Cartersville started to turn the corner near the county championship tournament. Once they hit region play, they were in cruise control. Another region title, clinched on their home court, gave the Canes a favorable draw in the state playoffs.
Following an opening-round sweep of Madison County, Cartersville outlasted LaFayette in a thrilling four-set encounter. The Canes hit the road for the quarterfinals, recovering from an early setback to sweep Richmond Academy.
Tuesday’s defeat does nothing to diminish those accomplishments, especially when it seemed as though the team was destined for an early exit just a couple of months ago.
“I’m immensely proud, obviously, to have gone as far as we’ve went this year,” Cothran said. “To have gone as far as we went after starting as rough as we did, it speaks a lot to the character of these girls for them to be able to respond the way they have, throughout the year, day in and day out. When we were playing poorly and struggling, the girls were really no different than they are now — just a very steady group.”
That steady group also includes Kady Doegg. After the match as Doegg helped clear the court, Cothran made sure to credit his fellow coach for her help in getting the Canes to this point.
“She’s done a great job,” Cothran said of Doegg. “She’s been there for me when I’ve been frustrated with things and when things were going poorly. I never felt like there was a second when she didn’t have my back and wasn’t on the same page with me. It’s great to have that working relationship and that person who you trust to always be there for you.
“She did a great job with our JV and ninth-grade [team]. She did an amazing job, helping me with our varsity. … I need a lot of help, and she’s been that.”
The Cartersville coaching staff will have its hands full again next season. With eight departing seniors, including five of the Canes’ regulars, a practically brand-new lineup will be displayed for the 2019 season opener.
The multitude of Cartersville fans who packed the stands Tuesday will not only need to prepare for a different group of players but also a different style given the returning players. No longer will the Canes boast the size of outside hitters Nedu Evans (7 kills, 3 digs and 2 blocks Tuesday) and Rebekah Stevens (4 kills, 2 assists and an ace), middle blocker London Shaw or even setter Grace Hunter.
Cartersville will need to rely on being solid on defense and in serve-receive to successfully overcome those talented departures.
“We’ve got a lot of smaller players coming up — in stature, not necessarily in heart,” Cothran said. “They’re skilled but they’re small, so we’re going to be playing a different style of volleyball next year, maybe the next two years. If they grow, that’s great. If they don’t, … we’ll take a scrappy, feisty, tough team everywhere we go and try to make some noise with it.”