Gallery by Heather Belcher
Throughout the season Beckley has proven to be the best team in Region 3.
Saturday’s showing did little to indicate otherwise.
Needing victories in three sets to clinch a state tournament berth, the Flying Eagles went a step further, nabbing six without dropping a set in front of their home crowd in Beckley to claim the Region 3 title.
Opening the evening with Capital, Beckley dispatched the Cougars with relative ease to setup a date with George Washington – which swept Greenbrier East earlier in the evening – with the regional title and a higher seed at next week’s state tournament on the line.
In similar fashion to their sectional championship match earlier in the week, the Flying Eagles clawed to a victory early in the match before opening the floodgates on their opponents.
Battling to a 27-25 come-from-behind victory in the opening set against the Patriots, Beckley roared to a 25-6 victory in the second set before closing out the third with a 25-14 victory.
The second set proved to be the turning point of the match after the first indicated a slugfest was on the horizon.
After GW tied the match at four, Beckley ran off 17 straight points to take a 21-4 lead.
“Serving aggressive was the key,” Beckley coach Bre Rhodes said. “Once you serve aggressive and they’re off on that first set, that’s a free ball and we can take control from there. Aggressive serves really helped there to go from six to 21.”
The Patriots brought their A-game earlier, jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the opening set and never coming off the lead until it was tied at 15. The score was knotted five more times before GW threatened to put it away up up 24-22 but three straight Beckley points after the visitors took a 25-24 lead cemented the set.
Reeling from their disastrous showing in the second set, GW stumbled out of the gate in the third and Beckley delivered the knockout blow. Up 15-11, Beckley ripped another run with five consecutive points to make it 20-11. Afterwards the Flying Eagles were comfortable trading scores, closing the contest and clinching the Region 3 title with a 25-14 victory.
“They kept the pressure on,” GW head coach Missy Smith said. “Their serves were good and their block was tough. We just couldn’t find a way through and the block to their hitters a little bit and we just started making more errors than we usually make and you can’t give a team like Woodrow opportunities like that because they’ll take them and pound you and that’s what happened.”
The regional title was the second consecutive one for the Flying Eagles to come at GW’s expense, though the path was a little different. After graduating a pair of all-staters in Olivia Ziolkowski and Elysia Salon, the Flying Eagles needed fresh blood to step up and fill those roles.
Rhodes never wavered in her belief her team would host the regional plaque again despite those losses.
“We did lose some key players in key positions but these girls stepped up,” Rhodes said. “They play travel ball and they’re a close knit team. Coming into the season that saved us time on the front end where we didn’t have to do a lot of team building and they’re already a close knit group. We could start working on positions and filling those holes and it’s worked out just like we wanted it to.”
Both Beckley and GW advance to the state tournament which will begin on Wednesday at the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center. Seedings as well as match times will be unveiled at a later date.
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