Cyclones survive Panthers to claim fourth straight state title

Members of the Porter Gaud volleyball team rush the floor to celebrate their championship win over Ashley Hall Tuesday October 22, 2013. Grace Beahm/Staff

With her team down 5-1 in the first game of Tuesday’s SCISA Class AAA state championship, Porter-Gaud coach Megan Parkerson called timeout to calm her players and quiet the Ashley Hall crowd that showed up at the College of Charleston’s TD Arena.

The one-minute break did wonders.

The Cyclones rallied to win the first game of the best-of-five showdown, 25-18. The match produced rallies, momentum swings, numerous outstanding efforts — and five intense games. Timeouts helped change the tides of the showdown and let the players, coaches and fans catch their collective breath.

The Cyclones won the best-of-five match 25-18, 25-21, 21-25, 16-25, 15-4 to gain their fourth straight state title.

The song remained the same despite a new cast of characters and coach. The Cyclones lost numerous seniors from last year’s team including all-state players Julia McAvoy and Lexie Meyer. The new coach is Parkerson, who replaced Ashley Heidtke, who moved out of the area after leading the Cyclones to three straight titles.

“This team has gone to five in so many tournaments that I was confident we could do it,” said Parkerson, whose team finished with a 35-11 record. “It was amazing that we won a match like this in five. That is something special.”

Either Porter-Gaud or Ashley Hall has claimed the big schools’ crown since 2004. The last time a school other than the two rivals won a state crown was in 2003, when Pinewood Prep beat Ashley Hall.

Ashley Hall made its 16th straight appearance in the title match, but was denied its 12th state title.

“I’m proud of the way the girls played,” Ashley Hall coach Franny Slay said. “We fought and survived. To lose the first two games and come back like we did, I am so proud of them.”

Ashley Hall reached the title match by coming out of the loser’s bracket in the SCISA playoffs.

“It was a Cinderella story,” Slay said. “We came on strong at the end and played some great volleyball.”

In the decisive fifth game, the Cyclones jumped to a 7-3 lead as Maggie Cochran tallied four straight kills to give the Cyclones the lead for good. The Cyclones’ servers were too much for the Panthers in the deciding game.

“We just needed to regroup,” said Cochran, who tallied 21 kills on the night. “We all believed, even when they got back into the match. It was so fun to do this. I can’t believe it.”

The Cyclones should be the favorite heading into the 2014 season because there are no seniors on the roster.

“We have a young team,” Parkerson said. “We graduated a lot of seniors and losing Ashley was a big blow. But from Day 1, this team pulled together and developed its own identity.”