St. James earns berth in 6A state volleyball tournament

St. James celebrates a return to the state tournament after securing the final point against Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa in the 6A quarterfinals. 

There was more than a trip to the state volleyball tournament on the line for the St. James Trojans against Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa in the 6A Super Regional on Wednesday.

Win and the Trojans return to the state tournament after a one-year absence. Lose and the private school fails to maintain the necessary points required to stay in 6A under the Competitive Balance Factor and the Trojans drop to 5A in 2022.

“I’ll take the higher classification every time for the win and a chance to get back to state,” St. James coach Karen Lee said.

The Trojans won the first two sets against Hillcrest, 28-26 and 25-19, before dropping the third set 25-19. With a berth in the state tournament (and their classification) hanging in the balance, the Trojans rebounded to edge the Patriots 25-22 to earn a berth in next week’s 6A state tournament.

With the win, St. James earned its ninth trip to the state tournament since the regional format was adopted in 2012, making six consecutive trips as a 4A program in 2012-17, two as a 5A program in 2018-19 and now one as a 6A program.

“We are just ecstatic,” Lee said. “To make it back to state, in this classification, with basically nine, 10 girls all year long, we’re absolutely thrilled. To be one of the last eight standing in 6A? We couldn’t be more thrilled.”

First, the Trojans will attempt to bring home a South Super Regional championship. St. James (22-15) will play Saraland (51-4) in one semifinal on Thursday at 12:45 p.m. at the Multiplex at Cramton Bowl, while Northridge (33-16) will play St. Paul’s Episcopal (42-8) in the other semifinal.

The two winners will meet for the regional title on Thursday at 5 p.m., while the two losers will play in a consolation round, also at 5 p.m., to determine the seeding for next week’s state tournament.

To reach the state tournament, the Trojans had to win two games in the regional, defeating Hueytown 3-0 in the first round before taking on Hillcrest. Last year, in their first year as a Competitive Balance-adjusted 6A program, they were upset by Wetumpka. This year, the Trojans were playing much better.

“The girls were playing phenomenal today,” Lee said. “Our serve receive was clutch today, which put us in the offense a lot and just firing away with our hits. They were really playing as one from that first set.

“Hillcrest presented a bigger block, which made us a little leery of swinging away and utilizing their blocks, but (the St. James girls) got the job done. They (Hillcrest) were good on defense. They were digging a lot, putting up balls for their girls to hit. I’m very, very pleased with the way our back row played and dug out balls. For the most part, they did their job on the back row.”

St. James breezed through the 6A Area 3 competition with a perfect record in 10 games this season, but Lee said it was the remainder of the schedule against teams in lower classifications that prepared them for a return to the state tournament.

“We play tough teams, a lot of the teams that are here,” Lee said. “When you play them and you don’t play well, or you lose, it’s like, will we get back there? But when you look back, I’m so glad we played those teams because it does prepare you for the competition you see in the playoffs.”

CLASS 6A

South Super Regional

First Round

Northridge (32-16) 3, Eufaula (9-14) 0

John Carroll Catholic (28-15) 3, Sidney Lanier (7-14) 0

St. Paul’s Episcopal (41-8) 3, Stanhope Elmore 0

Spanish Fort (47-13) 3, Helena (22-23) 0

Gulf Shores (34-21) 3, Pelham (39-12) 1

Saraland (50-4) 3, Wetumpka (23-18) 0

Saint James (21-15) 3, Hueytown (16-12) 0

Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa (23-19) 3, Opelika (13-14) 0

Quarterfinals

Northridge (33-16) 3, John Carroll Catholic (28-16) 1

St. Paul’s Episcopal (42-8) 3, Spanish Fort (47-14) 1

Saraland (51-4) 3, Gulf Sores (34-22) 1

Saint James (22-15) 3, Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa (23-20) 1 (28-26, 25-19, 19-25, 25-22)

Semifinals

Northridge (33-16) vs. St. Paul’s Episcopal (42-8), Thursday, 12:45 p.m.

Saraland (51-4) vs. Saint James (22-15), Thursday, 12:45 p.m.

Consolation finals, Thursday, 5 p.m.

Championship finals, Thursday, 5 p.m.