After battling to a pair of hard-fought wins over Opp and T.R. Miller, the Prattville Christian Academy volleyball team didn’t look quite the same on Friday in the South Super Regional at the Multiplex.
Perhaps it was the level of competition or maybe the motivation wasn’t the same. Whatever the reason, the two wins on Thursday that qualified the Panthers for the state tournament were tempered on Friday by losses to Houston Academy in the semifinals and St. Luke’s Episcopal in the consolation round, leaving PCA in fourth place when the state tournament opens on Wednesday.
“One of the biggest things is we wanted to make it to state and we did that, so coming back today, we started out really well against Houston Academy but just couldn’t stay at that level of play for the rest of the day,” PCA coach Kaylon Cantrell said. “We made a lot of errors. I think the excitement from making it to state was big, but we didn’t play our best game today.”
PCA has battled all year in the same area as defending state champion Montgomery Academy and Friday’s semifinal action pitted the Panthers against the South Super Regional runner-up from a year ago and second-ranked St. Luke’s, so the Panthers certainly know what it’s like to play against the best.
“I think playing a team like MA several times during the season gives us an idea of what a team at that level looks like and how to play against them,” Cantrell said. “I think that definitely helped us today. The level of competition we played against, at this point in the super regional, are going to be the best teams in the state.”
Prattville Christian opens play in the state tournament at the Birmingham Crossplex on Wednesday morning against Geraldine, the top seed from the North Super Regional.
“It’s going to be exciting,” Cantrell said. “We get a Panther Walk at school that they’re super excited about, but I think it’ll be a lot of energy, definitely a lot of nerves. None of these girls have made it to state. This is a first-time experience for all of them.
“It’s tough we’re going to go in as the four seed and play the number one seed, but at the same time we know that we hung with St. Luke’s, we’ve hung with MA some this season, so it’s not something we haven’t seen before. That’s going to definitely help us out.”
The super regional format was created in 2012 and the Panthers have played in the tournament all eight years, but only reached the state tournament in 2014. That season, PCA beat Cottage Hill in the consolation finals to finish third, then lost to second-seeded Madison Academy in three sets in the first round of the state tournament.
But for a team that features two freshmen (Lennon McAnnally and Hannah Jones) prominently and includes just two seniors (Sydney West and Julie Lawrence), the state tournament can be a teaching moment for a squad whose best days might lie ahead of it.
“I think that’s one of the things I’m most excited about,” Cantrell said. “There are a lot of times in a game where we have three freshmen on the court at the same time. For them to get that experience as freshmen … is only going to help us in the future.
“I’m excited about the future. Yes, we lose two seniors but we’ve got a good young group.”
AHSAA VOLLEYBALL PAIRINGS
Geraldine (41-7) vs. Prattville Christian (29-18), 8 a.m.
Houston Academy (31-12) vs. Carbon Hill (43-28), 8 a.m.
Montgomery Academy (44-6) vs. Westminster Christian, 8 a.m.
Lexington (42-13) vs. St. Luke’s Episcopal, 8 a.m.
Geraldine-PCA vs. Houston Academy-Carbon Hill, 2 p.m.
MA-Westminster vs. Lexington-St. Luke’s, 2 p.m.
3A finals, 8 a.m.