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It would be safe to say that Grayson County volleyball had returned to form last year, winning 16 matches and reaching the region semifinals. But nothing confirms it quite like hoisting a championship trophy.
Having fallen on hard times after reaching the state semifinals in 2007, the Blue Devils made the Mountain Empire District volleyball race a competitive one again this year, finally upending reigning district champion Galax in five sets with a 25-23, 21-25, 25-20, 19-25, 15-10 win Tuesday.
The win matched the five-setter over the Tide a month earlier, and a victory over either Narrows (last night) or Graham (Tuesday) will make it official, but in all likelihood Grayson County (13-1 overall, 8-0 district) locked up its first district title since that 2007 season.
“I’m very proud of the way the girls played,” said Brianna Rhodes, the Blue Devils’ fifth varsity coach in six years. “There were times when we could have given up, but we kept fighting. Leadership played a huge role. I had several girls step up and help out their teammates.”
Galax (13-4, 6-2) took the momentum into the fifth set by scoring the final four points of the fourth, and the two teams were knotted at 9-all before Grayson pulled away. Two Galax errors and a Karly Morris ace put the Devils up three before Morgan Neff’s cross-court kill broke Morris’ serve.
But the Blue Devils finished with a 4-1 spurt. Destiny Shupe had two winners, including a kill on a point kept alive by Madison McCormick’s diving dig. Match point was won when Taylor Cannaday’s spike was blocked, but bumped by Camryn McGrady just over the net and into an open spot in Galax’s court.
“At the beginning of the fifth set, I just told the girls to trust me and each other, and to give me their hearts out on the floor.”
The first two sets were carbon copies of one another, other than the winning team. Galax was two points away from taking the first set when Grayson scored the game’s final six points. The Devils’ first lead in the set was at 24-23.
Grayson then gave up the final five points of the second set, including back-to-back aces by the Tide’s Haley Reynolds, as Galax battled back to square the match.
Back came the Blue Devils, who took the lead in the third set for good with an 8-2 run that included four Shupe spikes, putting Grayson up 15-11.
And back came the Maroon Tide. Madison Shupe’s tip capped an early 8-0 Grayson run, but Galax responded by scoring the next nine points, including five Lindsey Ayers kills. Tied at 16, Galax finished with a 9-3 run to force the decisive fifth set.
Still a young team with but two seniors, the Blue Devils didn’t let themselves get rattled.
“You always worry about emotions and adrenaline getting in the way, but the girls maintained their composure extremely well,” Rhodes said. “I thought we showed a lot of toughness not letting Galax’s crowd be a factor, especially in the fifth set…You have to give Galax credit, they never gave up and they refused the let the ball hit the floor without an effort.”
Madison Shupe finished with 12 kills and seven blocks and Autumn Halsey came up with 22 digs for Grayson County. Destiny Shupe added 14 digs for the Devils.
Ayers put away 19 kills to go with 10 digs to lead Galax, which got 34 assists from Susan Davis.