Athens Academy players celebrate after winning a point late in the Area 8A championship match on Saturday. 

Athens Academy volleyball team head coach Jane Thomas has been excited about the 2019 Lady Spartans since the summer months.

Before the season ever began Thomas could feel the energy around the group building and the enthusiasm was admittedly revitalizing for Thomas coming into the gym for practices.

The Lady Spartans have begun realizing the potential that came along with the excitement of their head coach prior to the season.

On Saturday the Lady Spartans earned their first trophy of the postseason as they won Area 8A at Prince Avenue Christian School.

“They’ve exceeded my expectations,” Thomas said. “They’ve been great and they keep improving. They’re really young and that’s a good sign. They’ve been improving daily and I feel like we’re peaking when we should be. It was a goal for us from the start [winning area]. From the first day of preseason we’ve been talking about wanting it to be our goal. We’ve been working toward it the whole time.”

The Lady Spartans first defeated Lakeview Academy in the semifinals (25-11, 25-22, 25-14). In the finals the Lady Spartans bested Tallulah Falls (25-21, 25-23, 25-15, 25-21) in the finals.

After falling in the first set the Lady Spartans rallied to the win. For Thomas, it speaks to how well the Lady Spartans are playing over the last few weeks heading into their postseason slate.

“We’ve had a couple of good weeks and today Tallulah Falls was playing great defense and they wouldn’t let anything hit the floor, which was frustrating us for a while,” Thomas said. “We finally kicked it into gear to where we could offensively overpower them and match them defensively. We were able to inch our way back.”

Junior Ali Rumpel led the way with 22 kills in the two matches. Freshman Olivia Nealy had 16 kills in the Lady Spartans’ two wins.

Nealy’s performance helped her earn all tournament honors. Rumpel was named Area 8A player of the year as well as Area 8A tournament MVP on Saturday.

Thomas has seen Rumpel’s impact all season and in practice. Rumpel’s performances and the accolades earned because of it wasn’t a surprise to Thomas. In her two seasons at Athens Academy Rumpel has become a leader for the young Lady Spartans.

“She’s a leader in so many different ways,” Thomas said. “They all look to her to gain from her experience. She’s powerful on the court. It’s huge for her to get those awards and it’s well deserved.”

The Lady Spartans will host Mount Bethel Christian Academy on Saturday in the first round of the Class A Private state tournament.

The Lady Wolverines finished in third place in the area after a loss to Tallulah Falls in the semifinals. The Lady Wolverines defeated Lakeview Academy in the third-place match.

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