State Champions Tallulah Falls rekindled the ‘fun’ on historic run to title [VIDEO]
Oftentimes, how we win big battles are when we declare them won aloud. For Tallulah Falls volleyball, the Lady Indians, who made history in just about every way imaginable, imagined themselves winning a championship prior to actually doing it. That was enough to fuel the Lady Indians to the GHSA State Championship in Class 1A DI.
“We spent a lot of time envisioning the week before the game how it was all going to play out,” states star senior Sarah Jennings. “Envisioning us winning points and winning the game really helped us to see that it was a reality – it was possible to beat all odds.”
When junior Addy McCoy’s final serve fell in for an ace, TFS fell to the floor in a dog pile in Cartersville in pure joy. It was the tenth straight win for Tallulah Falls to close out the year, and the eighth win over a state-ranked opponent.
“I just thought about everything that we had been through and thought, ‘this is it, this is the moment every single athlete dreams of,'” says McCoy. “Winning a state championship…[on the last serve] I honestly said a quick prayer, ‘dear God, this is on you, help me please.’ It worked, and I’m just so glad we had this opportunity as a team.”
For many of the players, fans, family members, and others, it feels like a dream that you have to keep reminding yourself was reality.
“The moment it happened, it seemed like it wasn’t quite real at that point,” says coach Matt Heyl, who early in the season eclipsed 100 career wins. “I was just so happy – more overjoyed that the girls did it and accomplished what they set out to do. It didn’t register at first.”
Tallulah Falls volleyball had gotten to the Sweet 16 several times, so making state and getting past the first round were sort of the expectation. But what this 2022 team accomplished went far beyond that. Still, during the season there was a point where things weren’t exactly clicking. Something changed.
“We went through a time where it just wasn’t that much fun honestly.,” adds Heyl. “We all got together for a team meeting one time and said, ‘the rest of the season we’re going to have fun.’ We went out to practice and had fun. We started smiling at each other again. It was almost like we were at a burnout spot, and then ‘fun’ got us back into it. Before our huge run, I said ‘let’s win 16 straight.’ The girls didn’t quite get it, but I asked ‘do you guys know what that means?’ They said ‘no,’ and I said ‘that means we don’t lose and we win the state championship in the end.’ We only lost one game the rest of the way, and that was to Morgan County (who also went on to win this year’s title in 3A).
Tallulah Falls reeled off 10 straight wins for the first time ever to close the season. That included the first-ever Area Championship over state-ranked Prince Avenue Christian. Once in the playoffs, the path to the title match didn’t come easy. TFS had to overcome 3 teams from Region 6-A DI, which was a region that had 5 teams in the top-10 rankings. The path to a championship included beating #6 Galloway, #1 Mt. Pisgah, and #1 Mt. Bethel (highest ranking from various polls). All the playoff matches were at home until the championship, which certainly helped.
“Everyone on the team feels more comfortable at home,” says senior setter Kitty Rodenas. “It feels amazing [having the fan support] because they’re one more player on the team. When we’re down, they are always cheering for us. They bring us up, and we bring them up.”
The historic journey included program records in wins (35), sets won (84), win percentage (.761), wins over state-ranked opponents (8), home record (a perfect 14-0), first-ever #1 ranking, first-ever Area title and first-ever time getting past the Sweet 16. Jennings, the Area Player of the Year, set the all-time school record for kills, digs, and aces, and the single-season kills record of 417. She finished with 1,085 kills in her career and 1,025 digs, as well as 283 aces. She also owns the single-match mark for kills and digs. Rodenas set the single-season record for aces (134) and assists (890), and McCoy’s 127 aces also passed the previous record. In the end, all of the records are nice, but the legacy of a state title is the one that carries the most weight. Not just because of the crowning achievement, but the way this group changed their culture mid-season and fought with determination and passion all the way to the end.
“It’s so exciting…It’s special to be able to leave a legacy at TFS to show the teams to come next that this is possible,” adds Jennings. “It’s really great that we’re able to encourage others.”