Panthers, Lions reach title matches

Pelham and Briarwood are one win away from a volleyball state championship. The Panthers and Lions advanced to Thursday’s finals with 3-0 victories Wednesday night in the AHSAA Elite Eight at the Pelham Civic Complex.

Pelham refused to concede a single set during its quarterfinal and semifinal matches, beating Daphne 25-15, 25-14, 25-15 to start the day, and then avenged last season’s semifinal loss to Huntsville, 25-20, 25-14, 26-24. The win puts Pelham in the final Thursday at noon against Bob Jones.

Leading the way for the Panthers in the tournament, so far, is Whitney Billings with 29 kills and 10 digs, Ally Slaughter with 18 kills and four blocks and Jasmine Clark with 12 kills and eight blocks. Lyndsey Young has 65 set assists, while Whitney Hudson has 26 digs.

Briarwood’s wins Wednesday sets it up for its third-straight championship meeting against St. Paul’s. While, the Panthers have believed all year that the state title was theirs for the taking, Briarwood was sure it could reach the final, and is now looking to pull off an upset over the favorite St. Paul’s Thursday at 3 p.m.

“Last year they didn’t expect to play volleyball. They just expected to play great volleyball in the Elite Eight and they got there and played absolutely amazing the first two sets and then lost it. That’s left a bad taste in their mouths,” first-year Lions’ head coach Justin Dee said. “We watched “Miracle” last night and we’re hoping it’s that same way. We’re facing the Russians…Our mindset is we believe we can go out there and win.”

The Lions started the tournament with an afternoon quarterfinal against Hartselle. Despite trailing 15-4 early, the Lions rallied and took the first set, 25-18 before rolling into the semifinal with second and third set victories of 25-19 and 25-16. Briarwood went on to beat Southside-Gadsden in the semifinal, 25-18, 25-15, 25-18.

Senior Amy Hale led the Lions with 25 kills in the two matches combined, while junior middle hitter Elizabeth Reiser followed with 18 kills. Julia Hoke had 15. Hannah Waid was the Lions’ leading setter through the two matches with 33 assists, while Hale had 14 against Hartselle. Kate Carter had a team-high 10 digs in the quarterfinal, while Hale had nine in the two matches.