Never give up, never surrender

Panther comeback secures championship bid


Alyson Phinney

Senior Lauren Ratinaud points to the camera as the rest of the team celebrates around her. Starr’s Mill came back from an 0-2 deficit to win the match against Whitewater 3-2, avenge the team’s loss in the region tournament a couple of weeks ago, and give them a spot in the AAAAA GHSA state championship.

Ben Barkley, Staff Writer

After defeating the Riverwood High School Raiders in five close sets, the Starr’s Mill varsity volleyball team traveled a short distance up Georgia Highway 85 to face off against the No. 2 seed from Region 3-AAAAA, the Whitewater Wildcats, in a rematch from the region tournament. The Panthers used great teamwork to claw back from an 0-2 deficit and win the match 3-2,  clinching a spot in the AAAAA State Championship.

Alyson Phinney
Junior Georgia Waller prepares to serve the ball. The Lady Panther offense started off slow, but used communication and teamwork to rally back from near elimination and defeat the Wildcats.

“I’m just excited for the team,” head coach Jason Flowers said. “They’ve worked so hard for this.”

Game one started slowly for the Lady Panthers as Whitewater jumped to a quick 3-0 lead. Starr’s Mill quickly answered back courtesy of junior Kayla Sloan to tie it up. Sloan started to pick up the pace, giving the team the lead at one point. However, Whitewater rallied to regain the lead. This started a dry spell for the Panthers as they could not find a way onto the scoreboard, and this lasted all the way up until the score was 20-14 Whitewater. The Panthers attempted to comeback, but it was all too late as the Panthers lost game one to Whitewater 25-20.

Game two started off with a 3-1 Panther lead, but the Wildcats rallied back to tie the score at eight. However, the Panthers started playing with passion after that. Elimination was not on their radar as they took a 16-12 lead due to Whitewater mistakes and miscommunications. However, Whitewater came back from this deficit mainly from bad calls to take a 2-0 lead in the series with a 25-22 victory.

“I told the team that we have to focus point to point,” Flowers said. “They just took over after that, and ultimately they succeeded.”

Another slow start plagued the Lady Panthers in game three, but they quickly came back to tie the score at seven. After this tie, Starr’s Mill played with a better rhythm than in the first two games. Whitewater still led late in the game 19-17, but Starr’s Mill kept the game close and eventually tied the score at 23. The Lady Panthers then pulled off a victory of 25-23 to avoid elimination and force a game four.

We need to work on keeping our heads held high.”

— freshman Nicole Smith

“There were a lot of ups and downs in order to make it [to the final four],” freshman Nicole Smith said. “But we definitely pulled through this match.”

The Panthers started quick from their new dose of energy in game four, giving the team a 3-1 lead early. However, Whitewater immediately came back to decrease the Panther lead down to 6-5. Junior Tessa Laney, senior Megan Lee, and freshman Nicole Smith, then took over the game, leading the team on a huge run that the Wildcats could not stop. Starr’s Mill led 18-13 late in the match. All three players sealed the deal after that, taking a commanding 25-16 win to tie the series at two apiece, setting up a decisive game five.

“[The team] played a little timid to start,” Flowers said. “They figured it out and we fixed it after that.”

Game five was all Starr’s Mill as Whitewater could not capitalize on anything that the Panthers gave them. Whitewater did attempt a comeback, but it was to no avail as Smith spiked the ball for the game-winning point. This completed the comeback for the Panthers with a 15-9 win, putting the team in the AAAAA GHSA State Championship.

“We need to work on keeping our heads held high,” Smith said. “We also need to work on staying strong the entire game.”

On the other side of the bracket, the No. 1 seed from Region 3-AAAAA McIntosh High School Chiefs swept No. 1 seed from Region 8-AAAAA Buford High School to advance to the team’s second-straight State Championship match against a Fayette County foe.

This sets up a huge Battle of the Bubble with even larger stakes than just bragging rights. The match is scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m. on Nov. 2 at Marietta High School in Marietta, Georgia.