By Dan Stillwell
Register-Herald Sports Writer
After beating arch-nemesis Spring Valley Friday night, the Greenbrier East Lady Spartans were on top of the volleyball world.
They had out-hit, out-blocked, out-digged and out-served Spring Valley in a 3-1 win in the Class AAA semifinals of the state volleyball tournament.
But in Saturday’s Class AAA finals at the Charleston Civic Center, No. 1-ranked Musselman brought No. 3 East back down to earth.
It was the Lady Applemen who did everything right, ending two years of frustration with a 3-0 win at the Charleston Civic Center.
East coach Matt Sauvage thought the victory over Spring Valley took a lot out of his team, physically and emotionally. But he wasn’t using that as an excuse.
“I know it did, but that being said, it’s the state tournament, state championship game,” Sauvage said. “Give all credit to Musselman. They played well.”
The Lady Applemen were state champions in 2008 and 2010, but had finished runner-up to Spring Valley and George Washington the past two seasons.
“Three of us have sisters who won championships, and we had to follow in their footsteps,” said Musselman hitter and state player of the year candidate Taylor Lord. “Last year was a heartbreaker. But we really thought this would be our year.”
The Lady Applemen (44-6) jumped out to double-digit leads in the first game before East came roaring back. Two big hits by Kaitie Shaver narrowed the gap to two points before Musselman pulled out a 25-22 win.
After that, the eastern panhandle team was in complete control.
“We got down early in the first set, and that always hurts you,” Sauvage said. “We got back into it, and if we could have finished out that run, it would have made a big difference.
“But it deflated them a little bit. It was hard to come back after that.”
Musselman’s serves were consistently on target and hard to handle. Sauvage called them “the best serving team in the state.”
Up front, East’s Shaver, Abby Brown and Ellen Henthorn, who had torched Spring Valley’s defense the night before, could do little against Lord, Autumn Bartles and their cohorts.
As good as they hit, they blocked even better. And what got by them, the Musselman defense picked up.
In one volley during the third game, both Shaver and Brown each unleashed a murderous hit. Somehow, neither ball hit the floor.
“We really pride ourselves on defense. We don’t have big blockers,” said Lord, who was listed as 5-foot-10 in the program but is actually smaller. “Our tallest person is 5-9 on a good day. We work hard on reading our opponents.”
Musselman won the second game 25-14 and led 20-5 before a late East rally put the final deficit at nine, 25-16.
“It’s been an awesome journey and an awesome run to the state tournament,” Sauvage said. “We have nothing to be ashamed of.”
The Lady Spartans will graduate four seniors — Shaver, Henthorn, defensive specialist Olivia Talbott and reserve Chaunté McDowell — from their 47-12 squad.
Brown, another state player of the year candidate, will return next season, along with libero Abby Morgan and several promising sophomores.
“It’s an awesome group of girls, and I love each and every one of them,” Sauvage said.
“We still have a lot coming back. We had eight sophomores on the varsity, so I expect another run next year.”
Greenbrier East won the SSAC’s Sportsmanship Award.
Brown, Shaver and Morgan were named to the all-tournament team, while Musselman placed four — Lord, Bartles, setter Kaitlin Ferretti and libero Kaci Dove.
— E-mail: dstillwell