JONESBORO — The Class 4A state volleyball final will be an all-Craighead County event again this year.
Valley View and Brookland will meet in the state championship match for the second consecutive season after earning semifinal victories Thursday at Blazer Arena.
Neither advanced easily. Tournament host Valley View won the last two sets for a 21-25, 25-6, 22-25, 25-12, 15-6 victory over Mena. Brookland prevailed in four close sets with Fountain Lake, winning 25-23, 21-25, 25-21, 25-19.
The Lady Blazers (24-1) and Lady Bearcats (21-3) play in the first of five state championship matches Saturday at the Hot Springs Convention Center. The starting time is set for 9 a.m.
Valley View defeated Brookland in four sets in last year’s state final. The Lady Blazers swept this year’s regular-season meetings between the teams before the Lady Bearcats prevailed in five sets in the 4A-Northeast tournament final.
After Valley View’s victory over Mena, coach Margie McGee said the prospect of another matchup with Brookland motivated her team.
“They’ve had a goal to get back to the finals to try to play Brookland again and we got it,” McGee said. “In the locker room they were like, ‘Let’s go, next one, next 75 points, let’s bring them on.’”
Valley View will be chasing its sixth consecutive state championship in its 18th consecutive trip to the finals.
Mena became only the second opponent to push Valley View to the fifth set this season in Thursday’s second semifinal. In the first set, Mena opened a quick 9-4 lead and never looked back
The Lady Blazers belted Mena with a 17-0 blast to start the second set. The third set was tied 8-8 before Mena scored the next four points and kept the lead the rest of the set, although Valley View pulled within 20-19 at one point. Valley View opened the fourth set on an 8-1 surge and led the rest of the way to tie the match.
Mena led the fifth set 3-1 before Valley View reeled off the next five points, three on kills by Natalie Supine. Ashley Lamkin had a kill and a block and Alex Brown served an ace as the Lady Blazers closed the match on a 7-0 run.
“I’ve been telling them you have to play with guts. There’s nothing else you can do but play with guts and give it all out there on the floor,” McGee said. “They did it today. Being down 2-1 and coming back, they did that today and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Supine finished with 30 kills and four blocks. Michayla Mears was 32-of-32 serving with 10 kills, 36 assists and 14 digs for the Lady Blazers. Lamkin contributed nine kills and three blocks, while Olivia Miles had 31 digs to go with four assists and 8-of-8 serving.
Tolly Fagan was 21-of-22 serving with six kills and 25 digs; Brown was 17-of-18 with three aces and 11 digs; McKenzie Chavers was 14-of-15 with four aces; Avery Hall finished with three kills and nine assists; Hadden Lieblong was 7-of-7 with five kills, 15 assists and eight digs; and Alexandra Gibson contributed six kills along with five digs for Valley View.
Brookland qualified for the state finals for the second season in a row and the third time in five seasons.
“I think these girls behind me realize what it felt like to be at Hot Springs and to play in the final, so that was obviously the goal to get back there,” Brookland coach Nancy Rodriguez said with her team standing nearby. “I think that it’s played a big factor in some games this week and I know it will come into play (Saturday). We’ll be able to take the court and have a lot more confidence than we did this time last year.”
Thursday’s first set was tied at 21 before Brookland pulled in front. The second set was similarly close, with Fountain Lake prevailing after the score was tied at 20.
Brookland took the third set after the score was tied at 17. Abbey Hammons had back-to-back kills to get the Lady Bearcats to set point at 24-21 and a Fountain Lake miscue provided the final point.
The fourth set was tied at 19 before Hammons came up with a kill and an ace as part of a 4-0 run by the Lady Bearcats. Ashton Hamrick closed the match with consecutive kills.
Hamrick finished with 20 kills and two blocks, while Hammons added 13 kills, three aces and two blocks. Hope Barlow finished with eight kills.
Skyler Maynard had 46 assists and 14 digs. Talyn Hafer added 21 digs, while Ella Kate Parker and Darby Hall had 13 and 11, respectively.
“They had to work today and I was proud of them because it wasn’t easy,” Rodriguez said. “They had to fight, they had to work and I watched them talk to each other on the court and try to pick each other up. I thought that was huge that they were teammates first and they came out and prevailed.”