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CLINCHPORT –– Finding a way to Rye Cove High School has been a challenge for followers of Galax volleyball in each of the past two seasons. Finding a way to Richmond has been impossible.
Not any more.
The Maroon Tide earned its first trip to the state final four by holding off a young Rye Cove squad in five sets, 25-14, 17-25, 22-25, 25-16, 15-9 in the Group A Division 1 quarterfinals Tuesday. Galax (25-2) plays Altavista (20-4) at 10:30 a.m. today (Friday) in the first semifinal at the Siegel Center on the campus of VCU. The winner faces either Bath County or Riverheads in Saturday’s championship match at 1 p.m.
The landmark win couldn’t have come at a better time for Galax, which will see coach Rose Houk’s 31-year tenure at the program’s helm come to a close at season’s end.
“This is a dream come true,” said Houk. “We got this far last year and lost to [Rye Cove], so this was sweet. We’ve got six seniors and they were hungry to get to go to Richmond.”
Galax dominated the first and fourth sets, with the Eagles (13-13) winning the middle games, all of which set up a final race to 15 for the match win.
After three early ties, Galax took command of the fifth set with an 8-1 run and never looked back. Harley Brewer’s block put the Tide in front 5-4 and three consecutive winners by Bailey Shumate spearheaded the big rally, which was capped at 11-5 on a shanked return of a Paige Hanks serve.
“My sophomore year we made it to the first round of regions and lost, my junior year we made it here and lost, and my senior year we get to go to Richmond,” said Shumate, who peppered the Eagles with 21 kills while finding time to put up 24 assists. “We have worked extremely hard this season to make it this far.”
Allison White kills provided Galax its final two points.
“It feels awesome,” said White, who nailed 24 kills to go with 10 digs. “It’s so exciting. We really didn’t want a repeat of last year.”
Galax won the fist six points of the night and cruised unobstructed to a first-set win. Rye Cove, which got nine of its 14 first-set points via Maroon Tide miscues, bounced back and had Galax on the brink of elimination, winning the second and third games.
Three Galax errors in a 4-0 run boosted the Eagles to a 10-6 lead in the second, which Rye Cove cultivated into a 25-17 win.
Galax let a 17-12 lead slip away in the third set as Rye Cove’s Brooke Jones and Destiny Gibson took over at the net. Using a 10-3 run, the Eagles passed the Maroon Tide at 20 and surged into a 22-20 lead, holding on for the win and a 2-1 set lead.
“Rye Cove is such a scrappy team,” Houk said. “They seem to get everything back. We could have folded after the third game but we dug deep and fought back.”
“Their block went up more and I think we let down on defense,” said White. “If we use our hitters we’re good. If we don’t, we’re not.”
Faced with a second straight year of falling one win short of a final four berth, Galax opened the fourth set in identical fashion to its quick launch in the first set, bolting to a 7-0 lead. Two Shumate smashes and a Brewer kill down the sideline capped the run.
“We knew if we didn’t win that we were going home,” said Shumate, who also had 13 digs and 15 service points. “We knew it was time to step up and play like we knew we could.”
Shumate added two more kills before White rotated to the front row and provided three kills and a block on four consecutive points for a 14-3 bulge.
Rye Cove made up some ground with a 9-3 run but Galax still led by six, 20-14, and closed out the game to set up a decisive fifth set.
“We told them to play like every point was the last time they would touch the ball,” said Houk. “Dig deep, hit the floor and play every point like it’s your last, because if we don’t get to move on, we’re done. I’m just so proud of them and of my wonderful assistant coaches.”
Brewer finished with six blocks and six kills while Morgan Neff came up with 15 digs.