2013 Lady Cougar volleyball team celebrates 10-year state championship anniversary
Published 6:29 pm Tuesday, September 26, 2023
The 2013 state champion Lady Cougar volleyball team was honored Tuesday night. Players from the team were recognized on the court before the Lady Cat volleyball match as part of a 10-year anniversary celebration.
“That year was special,” said the team’s head coach, Erwin Harrell. “Things just fell into place.”
The Lady Cougars finished the season 19-5 and entered the state tournament as a No. 1 seed. their seeding earned them a first-round bye.
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The team’s first opponent was John Hancock Academy in the second round. The Lady Cougars won the game in three sets with scores of 25-11, 25-12 and 25-16.
Frederica Academy was next for the Lady Cougars. The Lady Knights were a No. 1 seed and the defending state champions. The Lady Cougars handled them in three sets with scores of 25-9, 25-23 and 25-21.
Harrell’s team played Oak Mountain Academy in the championship game. The matchup took five sets, and the final set was decided by just three points.
The Lady Cougars lost the first set 21-25. Harrell said the team stayed mentally strong and didn’t panic between sets one and two.
The team turned it around in the second set, beating the Warriors 27-25 in extra points. They kept it up in the third set with a more commanding 25-18 win. The Lady Cougars needed one more set win to take home the state championship.
The fourth set was close, and the Lady Cougars were up 23-22 late. The Warriors caught a few breaks and won the set 26-24.
Harrell admitted he was worried going into the final set but said the team shook the fourth set off and played hard in the fifth set. After a back-and-forth finale, the Lady Cougars closed it out with a 15-12 win.
“It was meant to be,” Harrell said. “The girls never got rattled and just took care of business.”
Senior outside hitter Melissa Mills and senior libero Kendi Castoro (now Kendi Austinson) captained the team.
“Good gracious, [Mills] could out-jump most of the boy’s basketball team… she made us go,” Harrell said. “[Austinson] anchored the defense.”
Current Lady Cougars head coach Kelsey Harrell was a sophomore outside hitter on the championship team.
Mills, Austinson and Harrell, along with junior setter Merrianna Parker and freshman defensive specialist/hitter Sarah Castoro, were selected for the all-region team that year. Mills and Harrell earned all-state honors.
“All of the starters we had in 2012, we had back in 2013,” Harrell said. “It was a core group there. They played a lot of ball together.”
Mills said playing with the same girls that year made the team better.
“We were all really close friends,” Mills said. “The chemistry just kind of worked… we really grew together.”