Spain Park, Thompson advance to Final Four

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

BIRMINGHAM – No team ever wants to have a season come to an end, but enter 2020 into the equation and the possibility of not even having a season, and the players are even more grateful for every extra match they get to play.

For the Spain Park Jaguars and Thompson Warriors, they’ll get the joy of experiencing the season a little longer after both picked up clean sweeps in the Elite Eight of the volleyball state tournament on Wednesday, Oct. 28, to advance to the Final Four later the same night at 6 p.m.

Taking on solid opponents, the Jaguars took down Auburn with ease in a 3-0 victory, while the Warriors did the same against a solid Prattville team.

With the win, four of the top five teams from the state advanced to the Final Four with No. 5 Spain Park advancing to take on No. 3 McGill-Toolen and No. 4 Thompson advancing to take on No. 1 Hoover.

Just to advance to the Elite Eight was a special moment for both teams, with Spain Park making it for just the fourth time in school history and first time since 2003. The Jags made it their first three years as a school, including two Final Four appearances, but then had a 17-year gap until advancing back to the state tournament this year.

Thompson advanced to the state tournament last year for the first time in several years, making this the Warriors’ second year in a row as one of the final eight teams, but the Warriors hadn’t advanced to the Final Four since they were in Class 5A back in 2003.

In order to advance to the Final Four, Spain Park had to take down a tough Auburn opponent, but the Jaguars didn’t shy away from the big stage despite it being their first state tournament appearance in 17 years, meaning the last time they were here, many of the players on the team weren’t even born yet.

The Jags came out and jumped all over Auburn through the first few points with a quick 6-1 advantage.

Auburn fought back to tie the match at 10-10, but from there, Spain Park went on an 11-2 run to take a 21-12 lead behind strong play from Audrey Rothman and Emily Beazeale at the net as well as Katelyn Walsh at the service line.

That led to the Jags eventually pulling away for a 25-15 victory in the opening set.

That confidence carried into the second set, as the Jags took the early lead again, but this time the set was more back and forth.

But thanks to a stretch of great blocking at the net, Spain Park went from up 9-8 to an advantage of 14-8 in the blink of an eye. That was all of the separation the Jags needed, as they pulled away for a second consecutive 25-15 victory.

In the third set, Auburn was fighting for its season, which led to the Tigers taking a 14-12 lead at one point, followed by a 15-13 lead. But from there, the Jags went on an 8-3 run to storm in front 20-17.

Already with the momentum of a 2-0 lead, the Jaguars were able to play more confident in that moment to close out a 25-21 third-set win and a 3-0 match victory to advance to the Final Four.

It wasn’t too much more work for the Thompson Warriors to advance either.

They jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the opening set, and seemed to set the tone from the beginning in what became a stress-free match against Prattville.

Prattville hung around at times in the first set, as the Warriors only led by three-to-four points throughout. At one point, however, the Lions put together a 7-3 run to steal the lead away at 20-19.

But from there, Thompson closed with a 6-0 run to take the first set 25-20.

That became key, because while a loss might have meant a much tougher battle the rest of the way, the Warriors had a 1-0 advantage, and they quickly became the more confident team.

In the second set, they jumped out to a 9-5 advantage and led comfortably throughout. Thompson eventually gained a 20-11 lead, and while Prattville battled back late, the Lions never did get any closer than seven points as the Warriors closed out a 25-17 victor for a 2-0 lead.

And that led to a third set that was no contest.

Thompson sprinted out to a 14-6 lead and eventually doubled up the Lions at 20-10, before closing out a 25-16 win to complete the sweep.

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