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Gary Harmon/HHJ Aspen Coggins and Hayley Crews of Veterans High volleyball make a block on Mary Persons High Tuesday at home.
 
Gary Harmon/HHJ Erin Byars, Lady Warhawk, shows how much she digs volleyball.
 
Gary Harmon/HHJ Jayln Slaughter takes an attack in the Veterans gym.
 
By MATTHEW BROWN
Journal Sports Writer
mbrown@sunmulti.com
Has the Veterans High volleyball team done everything it can to prove it is by far the class of Area 2-AAAA?
Everything but win the championship tournament, and that may only be a matter of a week and three more wins.
Not that some of the competition isn’t inching closer and closer to putting a dent in the perfect plans of Nicole Miranda’s Warhawks.
On Tuesday, Veterans completed a regular-season sweep of all area matches and sewed up the No. 1 seed for next weekend’s post-season tournament. As the top seed, the Warhawks don’t have to go to the West Laurens High gym until Saturday, Oct. 13, when they will play either Perry or Americus-Sumter County at 10 a.m.
The No. 2 seed is Mary Persons High. The top two teams squared off in the Veterans gym Tuesday, and the Bulldogs were Bulldog-tough even though they would eventually fall 25-19, 25-19.
“When you play all season long, teams get better and start keying on things,” said Miranda after her team’s third meeting with Mary Persons in 2012. In those other 2-0 wins, the Bulldogs had no more than 14 points in any game. “(MP) has improved their defense. They didn’t try to attack us, just tried to get the ball back over.
“Frankly, there were quite a few points where they just out-hustled us. That’s when I told the girls you have to pick up your emotion and energy level. Maybe the girls didn’t think it was going to be that close … it’s the end of the year, and we’re fighting for an area championship, so every game’s going to be close.”
To make it an even more interesting Tuesday, Veterans faced West Laurens for the fifth time, but first since Sept. 11. Again, it was a 2-0 sweep, but a 25-5 first game was followed by a 27-25 second.
Going back to the Mary Persons action, Miranda said sophomore Erin Byars carried much of the load in getting Veterans out of some small holes. She said the team rallied around her key shots, the kind of shots they weren’t able to get from top middle threat Jalyn Slaughter.
With an ace from libero Lauren Proulx, Veterans was up 5-3 on Mary Persons in Game 1. The Bulldogs used successful blocks and their own service aces to surge ahead 6-5.
Veterans’ first set-kill combination came from Aspen Coggins up close to middle hitter Hayley Crews. Veterans went back ahead by one, but the Bulldogs had two hard attacks score inside the back line and two one-on-one blocks even the game 10-10. The Warhawks slipped behind on a pair of hitting mistakes, but a block by MP went out-of-bounds for another tie at 12-12.
Serve went to senior Chole Webb, who gave Miranda an immediate ace. Slaughter’s first major strike was dug out, and the Bulldogs went on to earn another tying sideout.
But Veterans put the game out of reach with a 5-0 run. Two times in one rally Coggins set Slaughter, who got the second one to hit the floor. Kaylynn Cason, another sophmore, kept her serve during the run for 18-13. Proulx made numerous digs in the late stages, and Coggins’ first attack was a diagonal kill for the 20th Warhawk point.
Though the Bulldogs scored through Warhawk blocks and added an ace, it would not be enough in the end.
In Game 2, Veterans showed more energy and enthusiasm when Slaughter smashed a Coggins set with authority. Slaughter had two more hard kills set by Coggins and seniors Aaliyah Sebrero and Alyssa Pacheco.
Mary Persons, though, was able to see two hits go wide resulting in a 5-5 tie. Slaughter scored from another Pacheco assist and Allison Sierra aced a serve, but it was the Bulldogs then going on a 5-0 run with two aces.
Miranda called the timeout down 10-7, and it was Byars picking up two quick points on a sideout and a rocket-hard ace. Though Crews converted a set from Coggins in the middle, the Bulldogs maintained the lead built up to four, 15-11.
The game featured a number of heroic-style saves off the floor, most times those plays not resulting in points. The Warhawks were still down four, 17-13, from a service error when Slaughter’s hit up close earned a sideout.
On Sierra’s serve, it was again time for Byars to step in with big plays. She took Coggins’ pass outside for a crossing score, and then she tied the game 17-17 on Cason’s assist. Sierra capped the 5-0 run with an ace.
The match ended with a 7-1 Warhawk run, Coggins setting Webb outside for the final sideout. Coggins hit two serves the Bulldogs couldn’t handle, and her last assist went to Sebero.
“I think we’ve gotten better as a passing team,” said Miranda. “We’re not so reactive anymore. There are some teams who hit the ball really well, and we just want to get the ball up. We’ve been able to transition better from passing to the attack to defense.
“The goal is to peak at the right time. Even though we have a really good record (29 wins), it doesn’t mean anything until Oct. 13 and from there on. I told the girls they have a target on their backs and not ever think they can just show up.”


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