CANTON -- Pope had been waiting for this chance for more than a year.
Hungry to get retribution after getting swept by Sequoyah in the final four a year ago, the Greyhounds returned to the War Lodge on Saturday and they worked for a 30-28, 16-25, 25-18, 20-25, 15-13 marathon victory over the Lady Chiefs in a match that could have gone either way.
With the win, Pope (30-1) will be playing for its second Class AAAAAA state volleyball championship in three seasons against Buford on Saturday at the LakePoint Sports Complex in Emerson.
“Just from last year, in losing that game, it kind of gave us all (nightmares),” said middle hitter Ayanna Rodgers, who finished with 16 kills, two solo blocks and four block assists. “So winning that game just means everything, especially in their house.”
The timing could not be better for the Lady Greyhounds to close it out with the score even at 13-all in the fifth set. Their most experience server Kelli Kaiser was serving while Sequoyah's best hitter Paige Powers, who totaled 32 kills in the match, was on the back row.
Rodgers and Brianna Dempsey combined to block a Sequoyah kill attempt to give the Greyhounds match point at 14-13. Rodgers and Sophie Katherine Harvey came through with another for the clincher. Had Pope lost that point, Powers would have likely rotated up.
“I wouldn't say that we got lucky, but it worked out exactly the way we wanted it in the fifth,” Pope coach Jeff White said. “We had our best player serving and their best player in the back row. So if we didn't win that point right there, they would have had (Powers) on the front row.”
Sequoyah (34-3), which lost a heartbreaking five setter to Allatoona in last year's state championship, had the lead for much of the final set, which was also tied seven times. After failing to produce a block in the first four sets, Marthy Isley and Sydney Huyck came through with three combined blocks to help the Lady Chiefs maintain an advantage.
With Sequoyah leading 12-11, Rodgers hit a floating kill that landed near the baseline before Sara Siefert came through with a kill to put the Lady Chiefs ahead 13-12 before a double hit against Sequoyah tied it at 13.
While it will never be known what would have happened had Paige been up front during the final two points, coach John Edwards had all the trust in the hitters in her place. He credits Pope for stepping up defensively when it mattered.
“You always want your senior hitter to be front row, but I'm confident in the hitters that we had there,” Edwards said. “Pope's a really good blocking team, and we knew that going in. We gave it what we could, and they played a little bit better.”
Harvey tacked on eight kills for the Lady Greyhounds. Her sister Lily Harvey also had eight kills, plus two blocks, and Sadie Woodworth added four kills. Setters Cooper Abney and Ellis Burris dished out 16 and 15 assists, respectively.
For Sequoyah, Taylor Pecht had 50 assists. Huyck had 10 kills and Siefert finished with eight.
The match would have likely played out in Sequoyah's favor if it had closed out the first set after building a 24-20 lead. Lily Harvey and Addie Eiland delivered kills to cut it to 24-22. Pope closed the gap on a Powers hitting error before Sophie Katherine Harvey tied it with an ace that tipped the net.
Pope ended up taking the opening set when Adair Hutchinson's dig went over the net and dropped to the floor.
Sequoyah dictated the second set behind eight kills by Powers with its biggest run coming on Huyck's serve. All four of Huyck's aces came on her seven-point run that gave the Lady Chiefs a 14-8 lead.
In the third set, Pope held Powers to four kills while going on short serving runs to build a cushion. Pope won the third set on another defensive shot that was untouched on Sequoyah's side of the net, this one coming from Rodgers.
In the fourth set, a four-point service run by Powers behind two aces broke a 16-all tie and the Lady Chiefs took advantage of Pope's passing errors to win the set handily.