SUWANEE – Tiffany Jackson and Cassie Prausa were the first to meet, colliding in an explosion of euphoria in the middle of the court forming the center of the celebration. Kaitlyn Loesel and Annsley Marks joined next. Then Kamie Markle and Evelyn Parker. Then, after head coach Kierra Dantzler leapt into the mix and the bench rushed the court, it was just a blur of a Horizon Christian Academy volleyball team.
Finally finished with a grueling four-set match against Kings Academy in the GICAA Division II Championship, why not revel in the moment?
“It’s incredible,” Jackson said.
“Honestly, it’s indescribable,” Dantzler said.
Tested unlike at any other moment over the past two seasons, the Lady Warriors fought through slow starts and outside questions of their ability for a 22-25, 26-24, 25-20, 25-23 victory against the Lady Knights. It gave Horizon its second straight state championship and continued its march of perfection to 38 matches.
An hour earlier, the Lady Warriors were consumed with defiance. Thirty-seven straight wins and a state championship, and still another team confronted them before the match with the sobering proclamation – they couldn’t defeat Kings Academy.
The Lady Knights had dropped down from Division III. They had dangerous hitters in Jessica Gray and Joanie Tenanbaum. This was a different kind of team, they said, than the one Horizon saw over the course of two perfect seasons.
“They told us that we were good, but [Kings Academy] was better,” Jackson said.
After the first set, maybe they were right. Kings Academy stormed out to a 6-1 lead and took its largest lead at 18-11. Gray, Tenanbaum and Sarah Heffner did the damage, combining for 10 kills, and the Lady Knights went up 1-0.
Stunned, perhaps, Horizon returned to the bench before the second set in silence. Dantzler returned undeterred. She saw how the Lady Warriors had cut that 18-11 lead to 21-20.
“You lost by three points,” Dantzler her team. “No big deal. This is the biggest competition you’ve seen in two years.”
She was right. Horizon couldn’t defend Gray and Tenanbaum when either had a good set and time to wind up for a hit. They were relentless as Kings Academy built a 12-5 lead in the second set.
The trick, Dantzler said, was to disrupt Kings Academy’s setting so that Gray and Tenanbaum were forced to resort to tips and roll shots. It worked. Gray and Tenanbaum cooled off, and Horizon came back to tie the set at 21-21 and eventually tie the match at 1-1.
And so the precedent was set. Horizon trailed 9-5 in the third set but forced four ties and four lead changes to take a 2-1 lead. The Lady Warriors trailed 8-6 in the fourth set but played through four ties to hold on for the match-clinching victory.
The Lady Warriors used balanced contributions from Loesel (nine kills, 24 digs), Evelyn Parker (nine kills, three blocks), Prausa (eight kills, 27 digs) and Marks (five kills, 24 digs) and overcame impressive performances by Gray (15 kills), Sarah Heffner (14) and Tenanbaum (11).
Horizon senior Audrey Clanton had 24 assists and 11 digs, Tiffany Jackson had 37 digs and Kamie Markle had four kills and three blocks.
“They showed me what kind of team they were, especially against this team,” Dantzler said.
Added Jackson: “We wanted this. We wanted another win. We wanted to defend our title. We wanted to leave [the team] something to live up to next year.”