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HIGH SCHOOL VOLLEYBALL: Title quest gets more difficult for Eagles

The Colonial Forge volleyball team doesn’t need help remembering how hard it was to beat Forest Park.

It was only last Thursday that the Eagles saw firsthand in a competitive five-games win on the Bruins’ home court.

The teams will face off again Thursday night at 6 p.m. in the Conference 4 championship match at Colonial Forge.

“They’re an ultra-talented team with big, physical kids,” Eagles coach Keith Mesa said. “They have one of the best liberos in the country in Kenzie Higareda. We expect a fantastic battle.”

Fortunately for the Eagles, they had a relatively pain-free 25–9, 25–21, 25–17 win over Riverbend on Tuesday in the conference semifinals.

Hope Kelley had nine kills, and Brooke Sanders recorded 31 assists in the win, which clinched a spot in the 6A–South region playoffs. Madi Porter added eight kills.

“Thursday night is going to be a battle. I don’t know if this helped or not. It’s hard to say,” Mesa said. “They made some mistakes in the second and third games, and we’re not going to be able to do that Thursday night. But the kids know they’re not going to be able to do that Thursday.”

The Eagles (23–4) got off to a quick start with a decisive win in the first set before struggling to put away the Bears in the second. Riverbend didn’t go away in the third set, but Colonial Forge was able to finish the match with a late flurry of points.

Riverbend (13–9) saw its season come to an end. Shadae Strother had three kills and three blocks for the Bears, and Danielle Deiters added 16 assists.

“Riverbend is such a scrappy team,” Mesa said. “They never back down.”

The Eagles’ win sets up a showdown with their toughest opponent in regular-season conference play.

The Bruins, who beat Hylton in three sets in Tuesday’s other semifinal, were the only conference team to take the Eagles to five sets.

“It was crazy,” Porter said of the first meeting. “It was very stressful, but we really stayed together as a team and worked well together.”

The regular-season Forest Park match is still fresh in the minds of Colonial Forge’s players. The intensity helped them play better as a team, and the Eagles are hoping for a similar result, though they wouldn’t mind winning in fewer sets.

“I think playing Forest Park really helped us as a team,” Kelley said. “I think it helped us realize how good we can actually play together.”

Kelley was one of the many standouts for the Eagles in that match, which seemed to bring out the best in all the players involved.

Kelley had 24 kills and 13 digs. Sanders had 62 assists. Porter (20 kills 15 digs) and Isis Garcia (44 digs) also had monster matches.

Colonial Forge will need similar production from its players to win the rematch.

“It’s hard to make adjustments against them because they have so many weapons. You’re talking about a bunch of 6-foot kids all over the court,” Mesa said. “It’s hard to clamp down on one thing because they’re good at so many things. We’re going to have to come in and have some kids play pretty special.”

The Eagles will play Thursday knowing their season will continue next week in the region playoffs.

“The great thing about winning tonight is you get to go out and really enjoy the moment on Thursday knowing that you’re still going to be playing next Tuesday,” Mesa said.

Nathan Warters: 540/374-5442