Bethlehem Christian Academy volleyball coach Karen Carlyle thought last Thursday’s regular season finale at home against Notre Dame Academy of Duluth might give her team a good gauge on its playoff preparedness.
If it was considered a test, the Knights passed with flying colors.
In a potential state quarterfinal preview, the Knights took the final two sets to claim a 3-1 victory over the visiting Fighting Irish on senior night.
“I would say we played our best match of the season,” Carlyle said. “We were hustling and really getting our ball placement on target, which is huge for our offense. Besides being physically on our toes, I would say I was more impressed with our mental toughness. The girls have got a fire and desire to win in them and, as any coach knows, that’s more than half the battle.”
BCA (17-5) and Notre Dame will now compete in the 16-team, single-elimination state tournament at The Heritage School in Newnan this weekend. The Knights, the No. 2 seed from Region 4, will face Region 2 No. 3 seed St. Andrew’s School of Savannah at 11:30 a.m. following Region 1 No. 1 Notre Dame’s match against Region 3 No. 4 St. George’s Episcopal School at 10 a.m. If both teams win, they’ll face each other in the quarterfinals at 4 p.m. for the right to advance to the semifinals Saturday morning.
“We had never seen them play before during this season, but after seeing them listed as No. 1 in their region, we knew we were going to have to play our best to beat them,” Carlyle said of Thursday’s win against Notre Dame “After the way we played, I can say we are more confident going into the tournament. I was extremely impressed with the way my girls played. We had more blocks in that match than in any other game. So that tells me the girls are reading our opponent’s offense a lot better, which is encouraging going into (this) week.”
BCA came out on fire in the first set, grabbing a quick 4-0 lead and never relinquishing it on the way to a 25-19 win. The second set went back-and-forth with Notre Dame eventually prevailing 33-31.
The Knights, though, dominated the third set, 25-13, and then held off the Irish 25-23 in the final set to clinch the victory.
“After losing that second set, I just told the girls to refocus on what we know,” Carlyle said. “We had too many missed serves and hit the ball out too many times. We actually handed them over half of their points without Notre Dame having to do anything.
“Notre Dame’s libero was a fantastic player, and we kept hitting to her. So we adjusted our attacks and guided them away from that one player. The set loss actually fired the girls up a little because they hate losing on their home court.”
Kaleigh Roseland led the Knights with 21 kills and several blocks. Olivia Morgan added 12 kills with 18 digs. Laura Clifford had 18 digs, while Katherine Gano had nine kills and led the team in hitting percentage. Makinna Starkey completed 25 of 27 serves to lead the Knights.
Carlyle credited her four seniors and team captains — Morgan, Morgan Locklar, Roseland and Clifford — with helping the Knights have an “unforgettable” season.
“All four of them have really stepped up to the challenge of leading the team on and off the court this year,” she said. “At the beginning of the summer, they got together and made the decision that they wanted to change the culture of girls’ athletics at BCA. They wanted to leave a true legacy at our school and that legacy was one of winning.
“So they pushed their teammates to work hard in the weight room and in training this summer. I can truly say these girls are the best of the best.”
The Knights will now have a chance to create a few more unforgettable moments this weekend in Newnan.
“We are really going to focus on our attacks and placing them where people aren’t in practice to get ready for the tournament,” Carlyle said. “We also need to work on our serves; we’re just missing too many.
“I think the girls are ready to work and ready to fight. They have one goal on their mind, and that is to win a state championship. And if they continue to play the way they are playing, I’m not real sure anyone can stop them.”