Photo: The Gadsden State volleyball team gathers around the tournament bracket after winning the NJCAA Gulf Atlantic District championship last Sunday (Nov. 3) in Boaz. Pictured, kneeling, on left: Shelby Bates. Kneeling on right: Joanie Lang. Middle row, from left: Madelyn Massey, Jaylyn Freeman, Grace Nolen, Brooke Murphy, Gracie West, Leighanna Tralongo. Back row, from left; head coach Connie Clark, Aubrey Pope, Sierra Stone (manager), Morgan McClendon, Zoe Busbee, Landry Bussey, Taylor Spradley, China Lane, assistant coach Billie Spradley. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
The last time the Gadsden State volleyball team won a state or district championship, Taylor Spradley and her fellow GSCC sophomores were in kindergarten.
Thanks in large part to Spradley’s MVP production at outside hitter, the Lady Cardinals ended a 14-yeart state championship drought by capturing the NJCAA Gulf Atlantic District title last Sunday (Nov. 3) at Snead State in Boaz.
Gadsden State earned a berth in the tournament finals by defeating Monroe (New York) College, 25-20, 18-25, 25018, 25-21 on Nov. 1 and beating Lawson State, 25-16, 25-20, 23-25, 25-15 in the semifinals on Saturday, Nov. 2.
Monroe battled back through the loser bracket to meet Gadsden State in Sunday’s championship match, which the Lady Mustangs swept by the score of 25-21, 25-15, 25-22. Since that was Gadsden State’s first loss in the double-elimination format, the teams played a second title match.
The Lady Cardinals (26-10, 14-3 in ACCC play) built an 20-14 lead in game 1 before Monroe eventually forced a 24-24 tie. But GSC C scored the final two points to go up 1-0.
The second game was all Monroe, as the New York squad raced out to leads of 16-6 and 21-9 before taking a 25-11 victory.
Game 3 was much tighter, as the teams went back and forth with one or two-point leads in the early stages. Gadsden State finally got some breathing room at 22-18 and finished off the game at 25-19 for a 2-1 match lead.
But the Lady Panthers staved off elimination with a 26-16 win in game 4, setting up winner-take-all fifth game. Neither team led by more than a point until the Lady Cardinals went ahead 13-9. Monroe score the next three points lead GSCC to take a time-out, but Gadsden State came out of the break with two straight points to win 15-12 and bring the first-place trophy Beck Field House for the first time since 2005.
The Lady Cardinals will participate in the NJCAA Division I national tournament on Nov. 21-23 in Hutchinson, Kansas.
Spradley was named the tournament’s most valuable player after finishing with 72 kills and 13 digs. She finished first in the nation in kills (595), kills per set (4.72), total attacks (1,258), points (620) and points per set (4.9). Joining her from Gadsden State on the all-tournament team were Jaylyn Freeman, Shelby Bates and Aubrey Pope.
“We faced a lot of adversity today, but we fought and fought and did what we had to do to come out on top,” said Spradley, who will play at the University of West Georgia next year. “(Gadsden State) Coach Connie (Clark) told us after the first match that it wasn’t over and we could still win it, and we did.”
Spradley, who won the Class 5A state volleyball championship as a senior at Alexandria in 2017, said that Sunday’s championship was more special to her.
“I only got to play with these girls for two years, and they’re just very special. We had a lot more drive to win than we did last year because of how we got put out (in the 2018 district tournament). We felt that it was too quick and that wasn’t going to happen this year.”
For the tournament for Gadsden State, Taylor Busbee had 36 kills, followed by Aubrey Pope with 33, Morgan McClendon with 30 and Landry Bussey with 11.
Madelyn Massey distributed 160 assists, while Freeman handed out 11.
Freeman came up with 72 digs, followed by Shelby Bates with 51, Pope with 48, Massey with 39, Joanie Lang with 35, Busbee with 14 and Bussey with nine.
Clark, who was an assistant under Angie Sanders for 10 years at Gadsden State before becoming head coach in 2016, savored her first state title at the collegiate level.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a group of kids fight as hard as these girls did today. And it wasn’t just the six [starters] on the court; it was everybody. After we dropped that first match in three sets, we talked about what we had accomplished up to that point and that we worked too hard to lay down and we weren’t going to go out like that. This group cares about each other and plays for one another, and I think they showed that today.”
In addition, Spradley was named co-Alabama Community College Conference Player of the Year, while Freeman, Massey made All-ACCC first team. Clark was named district Coach of the Year.