Prep Volleyball: Newnan completes turnaround with sweep

For once, there were no rah-rah speeches on Thursday to Newnan head volleyball coach Leslie Fant’s own admission.
This year’s Lady Cougars didn’t seem to need any more motivation with an opportunity to reach the Class AAAAAA Sweet 16 at home against McEachern.
And how sweet it was.
Opening the first round of the state playoffs at home, Newnan was an aggressor from the opening serve and took advantage of a mountain of unforced errors by McEachern in an impressive three-game sweep for a Lady Cougars program that seemed primed to reap the benefits of a turnaround season.
Newnan, the No. 2 seed from Area 2-AAAAAA, grabbed a 2-0 lead behind 25-14 and 25-18 wins in game one and two, using a 7-1 run to close the latter and putting the Lady Indians on the brink of elimination in a span of 45 minutes or so.
By the time the Lady Indians, the No. 5 seed from a deep Area 4-AAAAAA alignment knew what had hit them, they were forced to battle out a back-and-forth third game that featured 14 ties before Newnan closed things out with a 25-23 effort in Game Three to complete a sweep in the best-of-five match.
Senior Ayla Brewer assisted junior middle hitter Julie Masonheimer, whose kill down the middle of the back row broke a 22-22 tie in the final game. Brewer then set up match-point when the Newnan duo teamed on a block before she neatly placed the ball on the return carom along the right side.
It ended after a timeout when McEachern served the ball into the net that sealed the Lady Cougar first trip to the second round of the state playoffs since the 2009 season. Newnan will host No. 7 state-ranked Chattahoochee (24-19) on Tuesday. Chattahoochee knocked off No. 4-ranked North Gwinnett, this year’s Area 6-AAAAAAA champion, in the first round.

“I’ve been telling them all year that if we play error free we can be a very good team,” Fant said. “I think the turning point for us came in the area tournament when we played East Coweta and realized how close we were in those games. I usually show them a motivational video or say something to them before a match. But not today. I guess it worked.”

Games one and two were anything but close early on considering how quickly Newnan built leads. Fant didn’t even bother to use a timeout in the match with all the momentum in the Lady Cougars’ favor. During a break, the team only spent a few minutes upstairs in the Max Bass Athletic Complex before hustling back down the steps to quickly get ready for game three.

Both teams entered with near identical lineups in age with 23-16 Newnan led by senior setter Ayla Brewer and outside hitter Mimi Yancey as the team’s only upperclassmen. McEachern entered at 21-16 with an athletic roster that including just one senior, setter Adria Charles. Freshman Gigi Perryman and junior Kiara Finlay both showed power from the outside positions but the Lady Indians never had the consistency to make a run to make a comeback.

The Lady Cougars’ underclassmen, meanwhile, might have been the difference maker.

Middle hitters Julie Masonheimer, a junior, and sophomore Allison Cash led the way with 11 and seven kills, respectively in the sweep. With Yancey and Brewer setting the tone up front, sophomore backliners Maggie Darracott and Kayla Price kept balls in play all night long with their defensive work.

“Our back line is so scrappy,” Fant said, adding of Masonheimer and Cash, “Most of our offense goes through the middle and we did a good job getting it to them. We’ve got two real good seniors and they help us a whole lot. But it’s nice to have so many younger ones.”

They’ll now get to experience a trip to the Class AAAAAA Sweet 16 a year after finishing with just three victories.

“The difference now is that these girls want to win,” Fant said. “They’ve showed that all year.”

They also proved it early. A kill by Masonheimer in Game One helped start a four-point surge and an 11-4 lead on a night where the Newnan junior finished with seven kills. Brewer ended the opener much like she did game three with a nifty kill that pushed a 23-13 lead. Earlier, Yancey’s kill helped the Lady Cougars pull away for a 16-7 advantage with McEachern eventually calling time, down 19-8.

To their credit, the Lady Indians kept things much closer in the second game, but couldn’t manage more than a pair of short-lived 1-point leads before Newnan used a 7-1 run to pull ahead 23-17 late.

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