October 14, 2012 1:20:32 AM
CALEDONIA -- Saturday's North State semifinal match in the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class I volleyball playoffs hung in the balance when Corinth High School senior Annalee Hendrick stepped to the service line.
Hendrick served 15 straight points to help Corinth rally past Caledonia to reach the North State finals for the first time with a 3-1 victory at Caledonia. Set scores were 22-25, 25-8, 25-13, 25-15.
"This season, we have learned that we have to focus," said Hendrick, one of four seniors on the squad. "When we don't focus, we crumble. We really fell apart there in the first set, so it was great to be able to come back and win the way we did."
Corinth saw leads of 16-8 and 21-17 slip away in the opening set. Key blocks by Elisha Collins and pair of kills by Sarah Freeman helped the Lady Confederates rally.
The outcome appeared in doubt early in the second set. More strong play by Collins kept Caledonia within 8-6. Hendrick then reeled off her monster spree from the service line. The 15-point run included four aces and a pair of net errors committed.
"It really wasn't anything Corinth did to us," said Freeman, a senior middle for Caledonia. "It was more about what we did to ourselves. We got down. Usually, when we get down, we focus on the positive. I thought today we really focused on the negative and it got to us."
Caledonia coach Samantha Brooks said resilience was a key for her squad this season. She thought that mental toughness and comeback ability served her team well in first set. Brooks quickly added Corinth's service game took over in the second set.
"Our service-return game was not good today," Brooks said. "I don't know the reason for that. It is an area where we have been really good this season. However, today, they took the match over by really outplaying us there."
Corinth coach Keith Haney quickly put his stamp on the team. Named head coach 10 weeks ago, the tweaks Haney made to his players' serves was the difference Saturday.
"We lost back-to-back matches at the end of last month," Haney said. "After that, we changed some things in our service game. We changed our rotation and did some things differently. I thought it paid off well today. This may be the most complete we have been in the service game all season."
Caledonia (23-5) failed to recover from the disastrous second set.
In the third set, Caledonia only led at 1-0 and 2-1. Kills by Kacy Lovett helped the Lady Confederates hang tough, as they trailed 17-12 before Corinth ended the set with an 8-1 run.
In the fourth set, Corinth (23-11) sprinted to a 9-2 lead. Caledonia battled back to a 17-14 deficit, before Corinth rode its service game for another 8-1 run to the end the match.
"It is a great honor to be going to the North State finals," Corinth senior captain Sadie Johnson said. "This is really a big deal since this is only the fourth year of our team. We only have four seniors and no juniors, so this is still really a young team.
"We had some adversity in the middle of the season, but we fought through that. I think that made us stronger for the playoffs."
Meanwhile, Caledonia will enter the offseason with high hopes because it also has a young squad. Freeman and Cara Hopper were the lone seniors on the squad. Hopper missed the end of the season with a foot injury.
"Volleyball is my first love. I really love it a lot," Freeman said. "We had a great group of girls. We really did a great job of coming together and working together as a team. We all became friends and that is why we had success.
"I am really proud because we had the best record Caledonia has ever had. We can take pride in that."
While taking pride in the accomplishments, Brooks hopes her squad can break the second-round jinx and make a first North State title match next season.
"This group of girls hung in there and believed," Brooks said. "They were the true definition of the word team in every sense. We played the big teams and the little teams and we played with great effort every time out. I am proud they believed and tried to come back no matter how many points we were down in any match.
"We did all of this with two seniors. We played our playoff matches with one senior. As a coach, you always want to do more. This program is now in a position to do that. We have almost everybody back and we think the potential is there."
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
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