Dalton High’s volleyball team entered the first round of the Class 4A volleyball state playoffs with only one thing on its collective mind: Win and advance.
The Lady Catamounts will have the chance to pursue that goal next week, too.
Dalton swept its best-of-five match with Gainesville’s Chestatee 25-13, 25-19, 25-14 on Wednesday at the Cats Den.
Jumping out to an early lead in the first game, the Lady Cats used one of their mainstays to their advantage.
Susan Meinders led the game off with a kill from a set by Kara Pendley, the start of an 8-2 run that forced a timeout for Chestatee to regroup — something they never were able to do in the opening game.
The Lady Cats (23-15, No. 2 seed for Area 7) led 21-9 when the Lady War Eagles (16-25, No. 3 seed for Area 8) used another timeout to try to slow down Dalton’s attack, but after alternating the next four points, Meinders finished the game with a block and a kill.
Lady Cats coach Joey Wills was impressed with his team’s play.
“In the first game, we were close to, but not flawless,” he said. “A really nice game. Missed three serves, our hits were going in, we were picking good spots to hit, and our passing were getting in front of the 10-foot line. We were doing what we needed to do. It was nice.”
Chestatee put up a fight in the second game. Swapping points early, the Lady Eagles tied it at 5 when a Dalton serve went into the net. But once again, three consecutive kills from Meinders allowed Dalton to regain control. Wills said his team struggled a bit after the first break.
“We just lost focus. While it was close, I don’t think we ever got to the point of feeling the game was in jeopardy,” he said. “It’s just that we made mental errors as far as missed serves. We just had some hitting errors and hitting into the net that was uncharacteristic of the way we had been playing during the day.”
The Lady Eagles tied the game at 14, but the Lady Cats finished strong, going on an 11-5 run to end the threat.
In the third game, the Lady Cats jumped out to a 6-1 lead off two more kills from Meinders and two blocks by Ashleigh Peters. Dalton’s fate was never in doubt after that.
“Our senior girls played the last five points of the third game,” Wills said. “We put them in at the request of the senior starters ... they wanted to end that match with the seniors. I obliged that and we did well.”
Meinders finished with 16 kills, Peters added eight and Molly Martin had four.
Macie Noles chipped in 16 digs, while senior setter Kara Pendley led the team with 27 assists.
Chestatee coach Julie Pushing was proud of the way her team played in its first trip to state.
“They’ve done something that nobody has ever done before for us. So it’s been an awesome year,” Pushing said. “The girls that are seniors this year were freshmen when I started coaching at Chestatee, so they’re my girls. This is the first time in my coaching career that I’ve had a group from freshmen to seniors. It’s very emotional and very special.
“They’ve accomplished a lot and made their school proud because it’s something that’s never been done before. They are leaving a legacy for the rest of the girls to follow up, and we’re definitely building a good program.”
Pushing said her team played up to par, but attributed struggles in the first and third games to the long bus ride and first-time jitters.
“When they were relaxed they played well,” she said. “It was something new, a little far away from home. When they played stiff they were a little nervous. That’s to be expected when you get this far.”
Dalton will play the winner of a first-round match between Woodland-Henry and Shaw in the second round on Tuesday. If the Lady Cats face Shaw, they will host. A matchup with Woodland means Dalton must travel.
• Northwest Whitfield pulled an upset of Johnson-Gainesville, 25-15, 29-27, 25-14, and is one of the 16 teams remaining in the Class 4A bracket.
Liz Trew had 35 assists to lead the Lady Bruins (18-21), while Sarah Thomas added 11 kills and one block and Mary Kate Allen had 11 kills and two blocks. Mackenzie Mastin collected four digs, two kills and two aces, while Shelby Douglas had five digs and McKinley Hopkins tallied six kills.
The first game for the Lady Bruins, the Area 7 No. 4 seed, went easily. The second game was where the Area 8 champs tried to make a stand.
“They did try to come back ... in that second game,” Northwest coach Jennifer Quinn said. “We kind of got caught watching a couple times, but we did more good things tonight on offense.”
Heading into the matchup, Quinn knew Johnson (25-14) had a strong middle hitter in Karis Sloan. The Lady Bruins’ game plan worked as Thomas, Hopkins, Allen and Trew all made life difficult for Johnson at the net.
“Our girls on the net really stepped it up,” Quinn said. “On the net, we really held them. We knew going in they had an outside hitter who could jump high, and she hit it out a lot.
“We kind of adjusted defensively, and it worked. (Sloan) was still on, but we focused more attention to the middle and wanted her to hit it to our libero. And our libero can dig it up.”
Northwest will travel again for the second round, playing the winner of Columbus and Locust Grove on Tuesday.
• In the Class 3A state playoffs, North Murray’s return trip from Stockbridge was a pleasant one thanks to a win against host Jackson, 25-8, 25-12, 25-21.
The Lady Mountaineers recorded 15 aces in the match. Alex Westmoreland had five, Iliana Munguia had four and Machaela Bickford and Kaitlyn Jones each had three.
Munguia added 15 assists, while Grace Phillips collected seven kills and two blocks. Hannah Jones tallied five kills, Harmony Jones had four and Erin Robinson had three.
Despite the score in the first game, coach Connie Hudgins was not pleased with her Lady Mountaineers’ style of play,
“We should have been more dominant,” she said. “We played sloppy. I know the score was 25-8, but I think we could have played more of our ball. Instead of passing for kills and having a purpose to hit it, we just hit it over.”
It changed in the second game, and as North Murray moved closer to advancing, the younger players got time on the court.
“It changed, but I also started putting in my JV players for the second and third games,” Hudgins said. “The third game was all JV players.”
The win moves North Murray (17-13) into the final 12 in Class 3A’s playoffs, and the Lady Mountaineers will face the winner of a first-round match between Woodward Academy and Johnson-Savannah on Tuesday. North Murray will either travel to Atlanta to face Woodward Academy or host Johnson.
Jackson (9-22) was the No. 2 seed in Area 8, while North Murray is the No. 3 seed from Area 4.