Six times they met during the regular season. Six times Edgewood Academy came out on top in their volleyball matches with Macon East Academy.
The seventh meeting was a little different.
The Knights handed Edgewood its only loss of the season in the Alabama Independent School Association Class AA state volleyball championship, stunning the Wildcats with a 25-18, 25-21 and 25-15 sweep on Thursday afternoon at the Multiplex at Cramton Bowl.
“It’s great,” said most valuable player Madisyn Kennedy, a senior at Macon East who played in her sixth consecutive championship match. “I don’t know how to describe it. I hate that I probably won’t ever play volleyball again but it was great to go out with these teammates. I absolutely love every one of them. They made this the best year yet.”
It was the finish that made the year so great. At Macon East, winning a state championship in volleyball is not only a goal, it’s expected. But standing in the way was defending Class A champ Edgewood, who turned back the Knights each and every time before Thursday.
“It’s something we’ve talked about all year, but it’s something we’ve tried to avoid talking about all year because we knew it would come down to these two teams and we haven’t had very much success with them this year,” Macon East coach Codi Moon said, “but we’ve been working the last two weeks on playing no one but Edgewood, hoping it would be us and them.”
It showed. While a calm and confident Edgewood cruised past Glenwood in the semifinals on Thursday, Macon East had its share of struggles against Coosa Valley. Unforced errors and streaky play didn’t look like a championship-caliber performance as the state champions of 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017 disposed of the 2016 state champs in the semis.
But when Macon East took the floor against Edgewood, the Knights were a different team. From the beginning, Macon East seemed to serve better, outside hitters Ariel Brown and Kennedy were dominant and the Knights shook off any challenges from Edgewood with a resilient determination as they won the first set 25-18.
“We had more confidence in ourselves today,” Kennedy said. “We knew that we could do this and everyone that didn’t believe in us, we were going to prove them wrong because we know who we are and we know how we can play.
“We haven’t won the first one all year (against Edgewood). We’ve been close so many times. We kept saying if we win this first set, we can win the whole thing.”
It was a message Moon delivered to her athletes before they boarded the bus for the short ride from Cecil.
“We expected to win,” Moon said. “We’ve played them neck and neck, point to point, but we could never pull it out. I told the girls this morning, ‘if you win the first set, you win the game.’ It’s all about setting the tone. They’re a good team. They’re well coached and I have nothing but respect for their program. They have a lot of athletes who adjust well and make the right adjustments at the right time. Today, the key for us was to come out and set the tone of the game in the first set and keep swinging. I have some of the best hitters in the state. If we stop swinging, we get beat, but if we keep swinging, there’s not a lot of teams who can defend it.”
Kennedy was easily the best team on the court on Thursday. The senior is a playmaker in girls basketball and a college recruit in softball, but her performance in volleyball on Thursday might have been the best day in her long and storied career at Macon East.
“She wanted it badly,” Moon said. “She told me before the game she was going out with a bang and she hit it harder than she’s ever hit it before because that’s how bad she wanted to win. We had a conversation about playing to win instead of playing not to lose or playing scared and I told her to play to win and hit it as hard as you can. If it goes out, it goes out, but we’re athletic enough to keep it in the court.”
Edgewood (27-1) never recovered from the first set. The Wildcats fought back from an early 8-4 deficit in the second match and briefly took an 11-10 lead but the Knights (37-7) regained the momentum down the stretch and won 25-21. In the third match, Macon East seemed to get stronger with each point as Edgewood faltered down the stretch, stunned by the determination of the Knights.
“It’s my last day playing volleyball,” Kennedy said. “I wanted to go out with a bang.”
In the three matches, Kennedy had 29 kills and 7 digs, while Emily Brooks had two aces, 10 kills, four digs and 28 assists, Anne Turner Cobb had two aces, two kills, 27 assists and four digs and Brown had 16 kills, two blocks and one dig.
Cobb and Brown were chosen as senior representatives for the AISA all-star game at the Multiplex on Saturday.
Joining Kennedy on the all-tournament team were Brown and Brooks, Kenzie Johnston and C.J. Weldon of Edgewood Academy, Claire Mitchell of Glenwood School and Allee Slaten of Coosa Valley.