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Athens Academy volleyball continued its undefeated season with the team’s 15th-straight victory over cross-town rival Prince Avenue on Thursday, Aug. 26, during a three-match event held at Athens Christian.

The Spartans won in straight sets with scores of 25-18 and 25-21.

Athens Academy spread out its offense and was able to outscore the Wolverines by nine team kills. Junior Olivia Nealy led her Spartan squad with a season high ten kills. She added three digs and one ace.

When preparing for the match, Athens Academy head coach Jane Thomas stressed the Spartans’ need to create a solid defense at the net and in the back row if they wanted to win the match.

“We were trying to make sure we were defensively sound,” Thomas said. “In Anna Greer Vandagriff, they have one of the best hitters in our region and we wanted to be ready for her, so we tried to focus a lot on our defense.”

Vandagriff leads Prince Avenue – and Class A-Private – in kills this season, but was limited to a season-low of six against Athens Academy.

Morgan Garretson, head coach of Prince Avenue, blamed unforced errors by the Wolverines for the loss. Her team recorded six attack errors along with six service errors.

“After the match, I told my players that I was proud of how hard they fought and reminded them that Athens Academy is a very good volleyball team,” Garretson said. “They took care of the ball on their side of the net, and that, combined with our errors, really made it hard for us to get and stay ahead. I encouraged them to use that loss as fuel to keep pushing forward.”

Athens Academy is currently ranked three places ahead of Prince in their Class A-Private rankings, at four and seven, respectively. The Spartans lead their classification’s statistical categories in blocking, aces and assists, while the Wolverines follow close behind in these categories, and even lead in kills.

The Spartans finished their 2020 season in the Final Four of the state playoff bracket. As they continue along in their undefeated season, they hope to use that reminder to return to state playoffs.

Athens Academy has lost only one set the entire season, dropping one to Morgan County in a three-set win.

While the match against the Wolverines remained close in both sets, Thomas explained the importance that presented to her team.

“It was good for us to have it be close,” Thomas said. “It shows where we need to work. And we’re going to go work on those things where they rolled off some points on us and those are the areas where we’re going go focus and try to fix.”

The loss was only the second defeat of the season for the Wolverines. That was a big improvement for their 2020 season; by this time last year, they had already lost six matches.

With two seniors leading the eight-person roster, Garretson, in her second year as head coach, understands how their youth and inexperience plays into the game.

Behind seniors Vandagriff and Skylar Paul, Garretson remains faithful in her squad. She has seen it overcome obstacles it already faced as an inexperienced team.

“More than anything, we are committed to continuing to grow as a team to reach our bigger picture goals,” Garretson said. “We will take the season one day at a time and focus on each upcoming opponent. It’s in the everyday practice and disciplines that greatness is born, and I believe that this team is capable of so much if we stay focused and stay together.”

Athens Academy followed this game with five-straight wins in a home tournament on Saturday. The Spartans played Sandy Creek and Morgan County on Tuesday, Aug. 31, while Prince Avenue played Rabun County and Madison County on Tuesday after press time.

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