MARIETTA - Pope came into Saturday's Class AAAA volleyball quarterfinals one of the most revered teams in the state. Rockdale quickly found out why. The top seed Greyhounds eliminated the No. 8 seed Bulldogs in three convincing victories, 25-12, 25-4 and 25-5 to advance to the state semi finals.
Pope, the defending state champions in AAAA and two-time defending champions overall, will play the winner of No. 4 seed Johns Creek and No. 5 McIntosh, October 26 at Mt. Zion-Jonesboro High School, while Rockdale's season ends at 38-14.
Though Rockdale came off a thrilling, come-from-behind win over state-ranked Northgate in the first round and a victory over Harris County in the sweet 16 to advance to the first elite 8 in school history, the visitors from Conyers were simply over-matched against a powerful Pope team that is trying to get back to the state final for the fourth consecutive season.
"Wasn't quite what we wanted," said Rockdale coach Stephen Sansing. "Pope's an awesome team. If they don't win state, I'll be shocked. They're strong."
The Greyhounds showed how strong in dominant wins in games two and three to seal the sweep. In game two, Area 8-AAAA player of the year Kendra Lackey had a pair of kills off feeds from Libby Bradford to tie the game at 3-3 early on, but the good feeling didn't last long. Aided by four kills each by Katie Bange and Leslye Barnette and three aces from Wimberly Wilson, Pope went on a 17-0 run to take control, and Rachel Reynolds kill off a feed from Nicole Carpenter put the hosts up 2-0.
The clinching game three was more of the same. Lackey and Jaida Allen teamed up on a block-kill to get Rockdale to within 4-2, but again, Pope's imposing front line took over. During a 15-1 spurt, Bange had three kills, Wilson three more aces, the last of which made it a 19-3 game.
"They dictated to us. They're serving, it ate us up," Sansing said. "We got a couple blocks, but for the most part they swung at will. They have a quick offense."
Rockdale kept things relatively close in the opening game. Mikaela Tracy had three of her match-high 19 assists to help Pope build an early lead and the Bulldogs' only offensive point of the game-a kill by Brittany Frost-made it 9-4, but Pope's lead never dropped below six points the rest of the way. The Area 7-AAAA champions took a 22-9 lead late on Mary Hannah Arrington's ace, and went up 1-0 on the day when a Rockdale error closed the 25-12 win.
"Our goal is to one day be like them, but obviously we're not there yet," Sansing said of Pope. "We're going to use this as a learning tool, this will be a learning experience that they will remember (and) I tell you what, it takes nothing away from our season. I'm proud of them, there's a lot to be proud of. Unfortunately, it had to end today."