DANIELS

East Jackson's Zoe Daniels reacts after serving an ace in the Eagles' region tournament win over Monroe Area Thursday (Oct. 15). 

The overarching goal for East Jackson in its first season under new volleyball coach Cadence Crenshaw was to return to the state tournament.

Mission accomplished.

The Eagles swept Monroe Area 3-0 (25-20, 25-9, 25-7) Thursday (Oct. 15) at home in the opening round of the region tournament, clinching a spot in the Class AAA tournament.

“It feels great … as a new coach coming in, that makes me feel good and makes me believe that the girls have bought in to the new coach and into our program,” Crenshaw said. “Some of the changes I made, they weren’t really happy (with) at first, but they grew on them and the outcome was good.”

East Jackson hasn’t played in the state tournament since 2018 when it lost to Calhoun in the opening round of the Class AAA bracket.

While the state tournament awaits, the Eagles have more business to attend to in region-tournament play. The win over Monroe Area advances them to the 8-AAA semifinals against Hart County (22-9) Saturday at 9 a.m. at Oconee County.

Hart County beat East Jackson twice during the regular season, but Crenshaw said that had a lot to do with her team’s errors during those matches.

“I’d love to see my girls come out and play like they know how and take care of business,” Crenshaw said. “It is possible if they’ll just show up.”

East Jackson showed up in its region tournament opening win against Monroe Area — though it took a while to get settled. Having to play with an altered lineup, East Jackson found itself tied 20-20 in the opening set before securing the win. Aided by a block point and kill from Maurissa Thomas and pair of aces from Abigail Pennington, the Eagles won the final five points.

“Because of some things that happened this week, we had to really adjust and get some people in that hadn’t been playing much,” Crenshaw said. “You’re standing next to somebody that you’ve never stood next to before, it was kind of difficult and it showed in that first set. I was happy with the outcome but not the score.”

Neither of the final two sets were close.

East Jackson jumped out to a 10-2 lead in the second set after an ace from Zoe Daniels. Then pair of aces each from Pennington and Mya Howard helped build a 17-4 lead. The Eagles capped the set off with a block point from Daniels and a kill from Howard.

The Eagles proved even more dominant in the third set, reeling off the first 11 points with a run that included three consecutive aces from Alison Lounder, the school’s all-time ace leader. After Monroe Area earned its first point, East Jackson put together a 9-0 run, capped with three consecutive aces from Keely Shultz.

“I think it’s really a mind set,” Crenshaw said of her team’s dominance in the second and third sets. “My thing is that, regardless of who you’re playing, you need to play your best. The second and third set, they did that a lot better than they did the first set. So that was good.”

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