While some teams would get rattled losing one of their contributors, the Lady Wildcats seemed to take Lumsden's loss as a challenge Saturday at the Cherokee County Tournament in Gaylesville.
Sand Rock swept through the tournament, defeating Cedar Bluff 25-17, 25-20 in a rematch of last year's title tilt to earn their second consecutive county championship. It's the fourth county volleyball title overall for Sand Rock (26-4).
"I thought we were very competitive today all the way around," Bates said. "They covered the floor well and got balls up and away to make aggressive hits. They came to play today and really stepped up. I like the way we're flowing right now. This is an unselfish group. I don't sense any jealousy among them. All they care about is winning."
One of the players Bates praised was Lumsden's replacement, sophomore Shelley Sonaty. Bates said Sonaty had played mostly on the junior varsity squad this season. Sonaty responded with seven kills and four blocks in the Lady Wildcats' three matches.
"Shelley was ready," Bates said. "She's a really smart player, and she reacts well. She's gained a lot of confidence in her game, and I was pleased with her effort and her confidence."
Bates was also proud of how well junior middle hitter Madison Smith and senior outside hitter Amber Ashley came through. Smith led the Lady Wildcats on the day with 26 kills, 17 digs and eight blocked shots. Ashley added 26 kills and 18 digs.
"Madison Smith dominated the middle today. She was really aggressive, along with Amber Ashley," Bates said. "Both of them had exceptional days. I could tell they really wanted it. You could see the fire in their eyes."
Senior outside hitter Kelsey Hayes tallied 10 kills and 19 digs and senior right side player Hannah Oliver had 21 digs and seven kills. Sophomore libero Meredith Trail added 19 digs and five aces. Sophomore setter Ashley Norris finished with 61 assists.
Sand Rock's path to its latest county championship included a 25-20, 25-17 victory over Cherokee County and a 25-17, 25-14 decision over Spring Garden.
Cedar Bluff (18-15) had to fight its way through the losers bracket after a tight 25-23, 25-22 loss to Spring Garden. The Lady Tigers rebounded to defeat Gaylesville 25-23, 25-17, then outlasted Cherokee County 25-20, 27-25 to set up a rematch against Spring Garden.
The rematch was even closer than the two teams' first battle of the day, but the Lady Tigers managed to hold on for a 27-25, 22-25, 15-9 victory.
"I saw some things from my girls I haven't seen all year long," Cedar Bluff coach Tiffany Ferguson said. "I saw them get down and fight back. Spring Garden and Centre both had game point on us. We were down three or four (points) and didn't give up. They fought back and won those matches. That took a lot of mental toughness, which is what I've been looking for. They showed it today.
"Even though the loss in the county tournament (championship) hurts, it's still a step forward. We made some plays and communicated, some things I had been looking for."
Despite playing its fifth match of the day in the championship against Sand Rock, the Lady Tigers showed little fatigue. They rebounded from an early 5-0 deficit in game one of the title match to keep within striking distance of the Lady Wildcats. However, Sand Rock managed to pull away down the stretch to take the win.
Cedar Bluff managed to gain a 12-8 lead in the second game, but the Lady Wildcats battled back to tie at 16 on a kill by Smith and kept momentum the rest of the way to earn the victory.
"The girls were hustling and they were focused, but they just weren't finishing plays (against Sand Rock)," Ferguson said. "Sand Rock plays really good defense. They get a lot of swings where other teams wouldn't. They were executing better than we were today. Their middle attack was on point. Number 7 (Smith) had a lot of good swings. She made a lot of smart shots. We weren't rotating the defense as well as I would have liked to cover the middle."
While Cedar Bluff had trouble reacting to Smith, Sand Rock's game plan was to attack the Lady Tigers' dominating presence of Audrianna Hargitt.
Hargitt finished the match with seven kills, seven digs and two blocks. She led the Lady Tigers in the tournament with 61 kills, 49 digs, seven blocks,five aces and three assists.
"She's just an amazing hitter and she's hard to stop," Bates said. "She's tall and she can hit it over us, but our whole game plan was to hit it hard at them and not give them any free balls."
Hannah Leach collected 45 kills, 38 digs, eight aces, three assists and three blocks in the tournament for the Lady Tigers. Abby Storey tallied 73 digs, 10 kills, eight assists and five aces. Brooke Wood had 32 assists and five digs. Raveen McElrath managed 77 assists, 40 digs, five kills and four aces.
Paige Bryant came away with 51 digs and five aces. Jasmine Adams added 12 digs, nine blocks, four assists, two aces and a pair of kills. Marigrace Wilson finished with nine digs, six kills and three assists.
Spring Garden (18-16) was led on the day by Haley Motes' 22 kills, 20 digs and three blocks. Darby Bryant contributed 26 assists, three kills and three digs. Dallas Smith added 14 kills and three blocks. Jacqueline Haney had 14 digs and six assists. Maddy Micha had 12 digs. Madison Sides had five kills and three aces in the semifinals against Cedar Bluff.
Cherokee County (13-17), which opened the tournament with a 25-17, 25-17 victory against Gaylesville, was led by Madison Millsaps' 17 kills. Kayle Moon contributed 15 kills and Magen Dupree had 14 kills. Heather Hubbard tallied 40 assists. Jessen Burk finished with 29 digs.
Gaylesville (5-19) was led by Alex Montgomery's 14 kills, five digs and two blocks. Hannah Van Pelt posted 22 assists, 14 digs, four blocks, three kills and three aces. Taylor Tomlin tallied 17 digs, five kills, four blocks and an ace. Angie Calvert came away with 12 digs and a kill. Lauren Hammett had 11 digs and a pair of kills.
Brittany Partridge and Ashley Parris had seven and five digs respectively. Sydney Hammett had four digs and a kill. Katlyn Van Pelt finished with a dig and an ace.