CREDIT KYLE PARMLEY and 280 LIVING
BIRMINGHAM – There was one end goal in mind for the Oak Mountain High School volleyball team.
A state championship.
The Eagles (49-9) sat down before the season and attempted to figure out how to get there. They drew up a figurative road map of checkpoints and goals that would allow them to reach their ultimate dream.
But that dream was dashed on Wednesday evening, as the Eagles fell to Bob Jones, 3-0 (23-25, 19-25, 24-26), in a tightly contested Class 7A state semifinal match at the Birmingham CrossPlex.
Although the desired destination was not reached, the trip was by no means a lost cause.
“Even though we fell a little short, I hope all the youngsters know that doesn’t mean failure,” said coach Tien Le.
The Eagles had eight seniors returning this fall and had high hopes. They expected to be one of the top teams in the state, and they were. The Final Four is an accomplishment Le thinks his group should be proud of, despite the empty feeling, looks of stunned realization and tears shed at the conclusion of the season-ending loss.
“There are other measuring sticks for success,” Le said. “I think all the junior players behind them, they saw how much it means to them. They’re leaving a very good legacy I think.”
Keller Lovvorn, Kaitlyn Lund, Kathryn Beard, Brie Palmer, Ashley Treace, Torie Denkers, Kendall Scharbert and Cameron Rueschenberg made tremendous strides in many areas from the outset of the season. Those strides were on display in the semifinal.
Oak Mountain got out to a 22-18 lead over Bob Jones in the first set, but a few “mental errors” allowed Bob Jones seven of the final eight points in the set, as the Patriots took it, 25-23.
“(It) should’ve been ours,” Le said. “That made a huge difference in the second set.”
The second set was an uphill battle from the start, and Bob Jones cruised to a 25-19 win. But down two sets to none, Oak Mountain’s seniors displayed the culmination of traits that were cultivated all season long: character and maturity. Those were the two things that Le felt stood between the Eagles and a potential state championship.
Bob Jones raced to an 18-12 lead in the decisive set, but Oak Mountain put up its best fight of the night, eventually garnering a set point opportunity before falling, 26-24.
“The good thing is in the third set, when our backs were against the wall, we showed character to come back swinging and not just go away. I’m proud of them for that,” Le said.
For the match, Lund led the offense with 10 kills to go along with 12 blocks. Denkers finished with five kills, and Treace registered five and 12 assists. Maddie Moss, a junior, contributed 18 assists. Lovvorn concluded her career with nine digs.
What Le saw from his team on Wednesday reaffirmed the reason that he continues to coach. From start to finish, the Eagles persevered, overcame adversity and never stopped showing progress.
“At the end of the day, with them growing and becoming better people, ultimately that’s what’s important, and I think they showed that tonight,” Le said.
The Eagles couldn’t have asked for a better match to begin its run through the Class 7A state tournament.
They took to the floor at the Birmingham CrossPlex on Wednesday morning and breezed through the quarterfinal round, defeating Enterprise, 3-0 (25-15, 25-19, 25-20), to advance.
Le called it the “perfect match,” in the sense that Oak Mountain (49-8) was challenged and had to keep its foot on the gas, but the Eagles played well enough that they never felt the match was in jeopardy.
“Enterprise challenged us to play,” Le said. “It was not an easy walkover.”
There was no sleep to knock out of the Eagles’ eyes with the early morning start, as they jumped out to a 25-15 win in the first set. Treace provided three straight kills midway through the set, as Oak Mountain began to pull away after a tight start.
A pair of finishes from Denkers extended the edge, and Lund’s excellent placement helped the Eagles finish it off.
Treace had a big day for Oak Mountain, finishing the match with team-highs of 10 kills and 19 assists. Denkers and Lund each had nine kills. Lovvorn had 12 digs. Scharbert finished with six kills.
The second set was Enterprise’s best of the match, and the Wildcats held a lead as late as 18-17 in the set. But the Eagles ripped off eight of the final 10 points, including a couple kills by Lund to pull away with the 25-19 win.
“The second set, what I liked about that was they stayed with us all the way through the middle, until about 16-16, then we were able to pull away,” Le said. “That was good for us to have to deal with a little bit of adversity there.”
The third set was all Oak Mountain, as the Eagles jumped out to leads of 8-1 and 14-6, before Enterprise clawed its way back late. It wasn’t enough, and the Eagles held on, 25-20.