The Madison County volleyball team existed well before the current group of seniors arrived on campus, but this is not the same program today as it was in 2016.
When you go to a game, watch the on-court product and look into the bleachers, you can see a clear difference. When the current seniors leave, that difference will still be apparent when you glance at the banners hanging on the wall.
Before Jaye McPherson, Jacey Belk, Emma Walsh and Keri Janosik joined the Red Raider volleyball team, the program had never been to the state playoffs in consecutive seasons. Tuesday night, in a play-in match with Stephens County, Madison County earned its third-consecutive state playoff appearance.
Its leaned on those seniors through this streak. McPherson, Belk and Walsh all contributed mightily as sophomores when the streak began. Janosik emerged as a junior in 2018 and had an impact on its run that year. As a unit of four players in 2019, they completed a foundation for second-year head coach Kyle Cooper to build on.
“We’ve had the best regular season of our lives, picking up 22 wins and being able to get back to state again validates that regular season where we had a lot of success,” Cooper said. “We play in a tough region where sometimes, it’s too competitive, but we were always in a position to compete this year. And we went and beat a lot of teams we’ve never beaten before.
“Moving on to state helps validate a lot of those big things we were able to accomplish during the season. It’s always nice for them, at the end of the day, to have a little something to show for it.”
Madison County has one more match before the state playoffs. The Red Raiders travel to North Oconee Thursday night with the No. 3 seed out of Region 8-4A on the line. Madison County lost on the road in three sets to St. Pius X Tuesday night in the region tournament semifinal.
MADISON COUNTY 3, STEPHENS COUNTY 0
Madison County didn’t just beat Stephens County, it left no doubt in the outcome winning in just three sets. From start-to-finish, the match didn’t even last an hour. The Red Raiders defeated the Indians by scores of 25-12, 25-16 and 25-14.
“We were coming in with the mindset of that it’s only the next point that matters,” Cooper said. “It’s that tournament mentality. Nothing behind you can do anything for you at this point. We did a great job keeping that mindset tonight. Even if we won a big point, they were ready to move on and get the next one.
“It was fantastic to have some consistency. That’s what helped us out tonight, there was consistent play all night long. We were able to get up and stay up. It feels good to have some consistency in the outcome of our seasons.”
The better team was apparent from the first service run. Stephens County served the ball out of bounds to start the game and freshman Vivian Hajdu responded with an 8-0 run to stretch Madison County’s early lead to 9-0. McPherson led the run with three kills, but Janosik’s leap way above the net for a spark started the run.
The Indians gave the Raiders fits in the middle part of the match, but Josie Johnson’s spike extended the lead back to 16-8 and started the run to put the game away. McPherson followed with a pair of kills, Johnson added an ace from the backline and Belk barely found the sideline for four quick points. A Stephens County spike landing out of bounds and a violation gave the Raiders a 23-9 advantage. The set eventually ended with the Indians serving the ball into the net. Madison County on top 25-12.
Stephens County was more competitive in the second set, erasing a 9-2 deficit to cut the score to 10-7. That’s as close as the set would be. Johnson scored three-straight points, two on kills and one on a block, and later started a service run to spring the Raiders back to a 19-9 lead. The Indians kept pace with the Raiders from there before Johnson’s spike brought the game to an emphatic ending with Madison County winning 25-16.
“Josie put one down that’s one of the loudest one’s I’ve heard in the gym,” he said.
The Indians took their first lead of the match on the opening serve of the third set, but four straight points scored by Hajdu, Janosik and McPherson gave the Raiders a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Stephens County didn’t just lay down however and later in the match, cut a 16-9 deficit down to 16-12 prompting Cooper to burn a timeout.
The break re-energized the Raiders and after McPherson slammed the ball down for a kill to bring the lead to 18-14, Stephens County would not score again. Madison County won 25-14 and put an end to Stephens County’s season.
“We were having trouble stringing a service run together in that last set,” he said. “It was good get a couple right there at the end to create some space and let us relax a little bit instead of getting up tight.
“They had a couple of girls who served us tough and were able to run three or four off of us in our receives. It’s good that we were able to bounce back from that and build some consistency in our offense.”