Eagles clinch berth in title match

The Oak Mountain volleyball team celebrates its semifinal victory on Wednesday night. (Reporter Photo/Jon Goering)

By WESLEY HALLMAN / Sports Editor

PELHAM — Oak Mountain High School senior middle attacker Samantha Skinner said there’s one noticeable difference between an Eagles’ volleyball team that struggled with mediocrity three years ago and one that is playing for an Alabama High School Athletic Association Class 6A state championship Oct. 28.

“Coach R,” Skinner proclaimed.

Skinner referred to Tammy Richardson, the state’s third all-time winningest coach in high school volleyball in the state of Alabama. Richardson took over as the Eagles’ head coach prior to the 2008 season after leading Pelham to two Class 6A championships.

The Oak Mountain defense tries to block a spike by a Grissom hitter during the game Oct. 27. (Reporter Photo/Jon Goering)

In only two seasons, Richardson has led Oak Mountain to back-to-back Elite Eight trips and will lead the Eagles in their first appearance in a state title match since 2002 following a 15-25, 25-19, 25-12, 26-24 win over Grissom in the Class 6A semfinals Oct. 27 at the Pelham Civic Complex.

The Eagles (57-18) will face Huntsville in the Class 6A championship match Oct. 28 at noon in their third appearance in a state championship match in school history. Oak Mountain advanced to the Class 5A championship match in 2001 and played for the Class 6A title in 2002.

“(Richardson) has pushed us so hard and we’ve just gone with it,” Skinner said. “It paid off today and it will pay off tomorrow.”

Skinner led the way for Oak Mountain. The University of Alabama volleyball commitment recorded a team-high 23 kills in the semifinal match, including 10 in the deciding fourth game.

Skinner also finished with 15 digs and four blocks.

Senior setter Chelsea Payne recorded a team-high 43 assists and 18 digs. Payne added two service aces.

Junior outside hitter Sara Goodwin added six kills, 13 digs and two service aces. Sophomore middle attacker Emily Cosgrove recorded 11 kills and a dig.

The Eagles dropped the first game 25-15 before storming back to win the final three games.

Skinner keyed a 5-0 Oak Mountain run to start the second game with two kills during the stretch. Skinner ended the second game with a 3-0 run, capped with a kill by Skinner, to even the match.

The Eagles coasted in the third game with a 7-0 run and a 6-0 run in the game. Oak Mountain sealed the win in a tight fourth game with two kills each by Skinner and Cosgrove and a kill by Goodwin.

Skinner, who will finish her high school career with a trip to the state championship match along with fellow senior captains Payne and Lauren Dasher, said the underclassmen have played key supporting roles in the Eagles’ success.

“The underclassmen have done a great job backing up the seniors,” Skinner said. “It’s not just the seniors that want to win. It’s everybody.”