Hamilton High School will have a new addition to the trophy case this season, as the girls volleyball team was able to capture the 2020 6A state title on Saturday night with a 3-1 win over Perry.
The Pumas came into the match looking to avenge a tough loss in the 2019 championship game to Basha, but unfortunately for Perry, it wasn’t its night.
“They’re a great team, but we played well on the right night,” Hamilton coach Sharon Vanis said.
The two teams are no strangers to each other. Both in the Premier Region, the two play each other at least twice a year. This season, Perry was able to snag a win in both of the regular season matches.
The Pumas boasted a prestigious 18-0 record going into the game, but Vanis believes that might have played a factor in Perry’s mental state and could have impacted their performance.
“It’s almost like they came in here worried about last year or worried about that undefeated record, and that will catch up with you,” Vanis said.
Determined not to lose three times in a row to the same team, Hamilton knew it was going to be a battle and this time they came prepared. It was not only a great opportunity to avoid being swept by Perry this season, it also was a chance for Hamilton to make school history, which they did.
“They have just established Hamilton as one of the programs,” Vanis said. “These kids, they feed off that. They take pride in that, not only on the court, but in the classroom, they want to be the best.
“We’ve had three state runner-up trophies, but we’ve never been able to get that final one.”
The first set started as a back-and-forth battle, with things tied up early at six. However, the Pumas quickly exploded to a 20-12 lead over the Huskies thanks to strong performances by junior Jordan Suan and sophomore Avery Burks. The Pumas looked unstoppable, and it didn’t take long for them to close it out, taking the first set 25-19.
“We told our girls, if they didn’t play close to perfect, we didn’t stand a chance,” Vanis said. “We got out to a good lead, but we lost focus and they took advantage of that.”
Remaining positive, Hamilton came into the second set aggressive, despite having to battle against the momentum that Perry had already built up. Just like the first set, both teams fought to establish dominance, but Hamilton was able to make the necessary plays to find itself with a large 18-10 lead.
Hamilton’s lead forced Perry to call timeout. As the two teams gathered near the benches, the entire energy of the packed arena, especially for COVID-19 conditions, quickly changed. It was nearly impossible not to feel the momentum in the air for the Huskies.
Senior Jahara Campbell along with juniors Micah Gryniewicz and Jordan Middleton were largely behind the second set rally for Hamilton, and the three of them did what was necessary to close things out 25-12 and tie the match at 1-1.
Perry came in to the third set fighting to establish dominance, but Hamilton was still playing off the energy they garnered in set two. Once again, the two teams found themselves fighting tooth and nail to get a lead to start things off, as it was tied early again at eight.
Even though the Huskies were able to jump out to a 15-10 lead at one point, Perry continued to battle back and tied it up at 22. Unfortunately for the Pumas, the rally in set three wasn’t enough to overcome the large deficit, as they fell 25-22 in set three.
It all came down to the fourth set. Perry was facing elimination and another crushing loss in the championship game, while Hamilton knew there was just one set remaining on what’s been a long road of obstacles to reaching the championships.
“They’re talented, but I think our chemistry is just there,” Gryniewicz said. “We really love playing with each other and we know how to put it all together.”
A slew of blocks by senior Ella Rud and sophomore Reagan Reynolds helped Hamilton climb out to an early 6-1 lead, but Perry was going to do it’s best to fight to the very end. Despite being able to get the game within two, Hamilton eventually was able to pull away to a 25-18 victory in set four to claim the title with the set point coming on a kill by Campbell.
Campbell, one of only two seniors on the team, says that in a year where there was so much uncertainty, actually being there in the moment was surreal.
“I transferred to Hamilton to win a state title, and we did it,” Campbell said. “My senior year, we did it.”
Middleton led the Huskies in kills with 20, followed by Campbell and Gryniewicz with 14 and 12, respectively. Campbell also had 13 digs on the night. Middleton also led in attacks with 35, with Campbell and Gryniewicz both racking up 32 each.
“We didn’t serve as tough as we wanted to and get them out of their system, because it’s hard to stop them,” Perry coach Fred Mann said. “You can see how physical they are. We had a hard time blocking them.”
“It’s still so unreal to me,” Middleton said. “The fact that we just made Hamilton history, that’s just amazing to me.”
Campbell believes that Gryniewicz and Middleton are the future of the Husky program. Despite the fact that they’ll return nearly the whole roster, she expects those two to have the biggest and most lasting impact on next year’s squad.
“They both pushed me so hard to be a better player,” Campbell said. “They’re already so amazing. I can’t wait to see what they do.”
“We’ve had the runners-up, now it’s the real thing, and I’m ready to carry that on to next year,” Gryniewicz added.