Spain Park falls to No. 2 Enterprise in 5-set battle at Class 7A state tournament

Published 1:54 pm Wednesday, November 1, 2023

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By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

BIRMINGHAM – In the fifth set of the Class 7A state volleyball quarterfinals with the season on the line, the Spain Park Jaguars were in all-out-effort mode inside the Birmingham CrossPlex, diving for every ball, narrowly reaching several, as they looked to continue a remarkable postseason run.

The Jags held a 2-0 lead in the match with hopes of advancing to the semifinals, but No. 2 Enterprise had stormed back with two consecutive set wins and was leading throughout the tiebreak.

Ultimately, the Wildcats went on to win the fifth-set tiebreaker 15-11 to close out the match and end Spain Park’s season, but the consistent fight the Jaguars showed throughout the fifth set is exactly what earned them a spot back in the state tournament for the first time since winning the title two years ago.

The Jaguars, who were sub-.500 by several games for parts of the season, clawed their way back to being a .500 team heading into the area tournament, which they  went on to win thanks to a sweep of Chelsea and a five-set win over host Oak Mountain.

That earned the Jags a chance against James Clemens in the regional tournament, which they capitalized on with another thrilling five-set victory to cement a spot at state.

And while Spain Park ended up losing 3-2 (10-25, 17-25, 25-17, 25-23, 15-11) to Enterprise in the championship, it was that growth head coach Kellye Bowen was proud of after the emotional loss.

“In my 13 years of coaching, it’s been by far the biggest growth,” she said proudly after the match. “The whole thing about a team is making them believe, and they believe they can play with whoever. At some point, this Cinderella hour comes to an end, but I thought we did well enough to win it. We just made some mistakes and they capitalized on it.”

Bowen added that this was a team over the past three weeks that dug deep and found a different gear because of their determination.

“A lot of people would’ve counted us out three weeks ago,” she said. “It’s a gritty team. They’re talented, we just ran out of gas.”

Bowen credited the team for buying in, and thanked the seniors for their efforts in helping finish the season strong, including one of the team’s leaders Grace Devlin, who was a vocal leader throughout the postseason.

“They did a lot,” Bowen said of the senior class. “A lot of people didn’t think they could do a whole lot. We graduated eight last year, five the year before with three All-Americans.”

In the match, Spain Park got off to a dominant start, and, for a while, the Jags looked as if they were going to coast to a straight-set victory.

The Jaguars easily pulled away with a statement in the first set, jumping out to a double-digit lead and never looking back on their way to a 25-10 first set win.

Enterprise settled in slightly during the second set, leading to a back-and-forth stretch up to a 10-9 Spain Park lead.

The Jags, however, were still getting clean looks at the net, which led to a 4-0 run that created some separation.

At that point, Spain Park had gained full control of the momentum and pulled away for a 25-17 victory in the second set, taking a 2-0 advantage in the match.

The third set is where the Wildcats shifted into a different mode.

For a while, it was a similar battle to the early portion of the second set, but Enterprise held the slight edge this time around, as the Jags struggled to string together points.

Unable to get the same clean sets for easy looks at the net, Enterprise earned a two-point lead at 16-14 and went on a run from there to pull away for a 25-17 set victory.

Spain Park, however, still needed just one set to close out the match, and the Jags came out rejuvenated in the fourth.

Continuing the tight battle, the Jags overcame an early 6-4 deficit and fought in front for a 12-9 lead to regain momentum.

Enterprise, however, continued keeping the ball alive defensively, which allowed the Wildcats to put together a 5-0 run that put them back in front 14-12.

Spain Park answered with a big run of its own shortly after to retake the lead at 18-16.

With that, the Jags had put themselves in position to close out the match and led by two as late as 22-20 and by one as late as 23-22.

The Wildcats, however, responded.

Trailing by one, Enterprise scored the next three points in a row to not only erase the deficit but storm back to take the set and even the match at 2-2.

That led to one final and decisive thrilling set between the two, as both came out and went toe-to-toe in the fifth set.

Spain Park took a 1-0 lead, but the Jags quickly fell behind by three points at 5-2 and 6-3.

They battled back to within one point on three different occasions all the way up to 9-8, but Enterprise created some separation at 12-9 and didn’t allow the Jags back to within two points en route to a 15-11 fifth-set victory.

With the loss, Spain Park finished the season 21-20 overall with an area tournament championship and a run to the quarterfinals of the state tournament.

Megan Ingersoll led the Jags with 27 kills, while Caily Kyes added 40 assists. Spain Park’s top contributors, aside from Devlin, are set to return next year, giving the team a strong finish to the season to build off of.

“I hope the whole team can return,” Bowen said of the potential for next season. “It depends on how their attitude and everything is toward the offseason. They did a great job. Again, nobody counted us here.”