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Eagles down Tide for region

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Defending state champion Auburn overcame a good start by Galax to win the 1A West title.

By Craig Worrell, Sports Editor

BRISTOL –– The first two sets of Thursday’s Region 1A West volleyball finals should give Galax a boost of confidence as the Tide pursues its first state title in the sport. The final two sets should do the same for Auburn as it defends the crown it won a year ago.

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Galax jumped on Auburn for a one-set lead and flirted with putting the Eagles in a 2-0 hole before the reigning champs finished in dominant fashion, taking a 20-25, 25-22, 25-13, 25-10 win at Virginia High’s Bearcat Den.

A condensed state tournament will be played out over two days this weekend at the Siegel Center in Richmond. Having previously consisted of two teams from each of four regions, the inaugural Group 1A tournament will include the champion and runner-up from each the West and East regions.

Galax will face the yet-to-be-determined East Region champion at 11 a.m. Friday. The championship match is slated for 11 a.m. Saturday. Regardless of the opponent, having faced Auburn (25-2) three times this season will only be a benefit to the Maroon Tide.

“We dropped a tournament to schedule Auburn,” Galax coach Yerrick Stoneman said. “We lost some matches because of it but we played a good team. You could tell in the first set that we weren’t afraid. There was no deer-in-the-headlight look on our girls like last year.”

Indeed not. Using an 8-1 run, Galax (19-5) zoomed into an 11-7 lead in the opener on a Morgan Neff ace. The Tide widened the gap to 19-11 when Madison Shupe’s serve fell in for an ace. It was more than enough cushion to hold off a rallying Auburn long enough for Paige Hanks’ cross-court kill to seal the first-set win.

Despite missing five serves, Galax was down just 20-17 in the second set, but Madison Shumaker put down three kills among the Eagles’ final five points to square the match at a set apiece.

“We shot ourselves in the foot by missing five serves, and we let one serve drop in front of us for an ace,” said Stoneman. “If we could get those points back and get a couple of 50-50 balls, you never know. We could be up 2-0 and the pressure would be on them.”

Shumaker rebounded from a slow start with seven kills in the second set.

 “She just started playing,” Auburn coach Sherry Millirons said. “I lost four seniors from last year, four of the best players I’ve ever coached, but [Shumaker and Brooke Bostwick] were my second- and third-leading hitters from the state championship team.”

The two would power the Eagles to easy wins in the final two sets, despite some frustrating defense by Galax.

“We watched them play Eastside [in the semifinals] and they were relentless,” Millirons said. “They keep the ball alive long enough to get you frustrated because your hits won’t go down. I told the girls to be patient and mix up their shots, and the second or third one will go down. They are the best defensive team we’ve faced, as far as being scrappy.”

Shumaker and Bostwick teamed up for 34 kills, 22 by Bostwick.

“It made it difficult for us because they had a hitter up there all the time,” Stoneman said.

With Region 1A East’s semifinals and finals playing out Saturday, Galax didn’t immediately know of its state semifinal opponent, though anyone other than Altavista would surprise Stoneman, whose Tide was the first team to take a set from Auburn in the Eagles’ last 10 matches.

“I think our girls learned something from this match and we should be ready for next week,” he said. “Our program is to where we’ve been to five straight state tournaments, and we expect to win. It doesn’t matter who we play, we do expect to win. And when you don’t, it does hurt.”