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gw mussman volleyball

George Washington’s Nyla Birch (5) and Maya Harris (2) block a shot against Musselman’s Addison Walker in the state AAA volleyball championship match Saturday at the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center. Musselman won the championship in five sets.

gw mussman volleyball

The volleyball state tournament was unlike any other this season, including a new format, and eight teams that qualified were not able to compete due to the statewide COVID-19 color-coded map restrictions.

With all the uncertainty, one thing remained familiar: George Washington and Musselman playing for the Class AAA championship.

The two powerhouse programs met again Saturday night at the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center, with Musselman earning a thrilling five-set victory over GW by scores of 25-20, 19-25, 23-25, 26-24 and 15-5.

“It’s a little bit extra special this year as much as we have been through,” Musselman coach Shawn Martz said. “We didn’t know if we were going to play in the postseason. We went down to Charleston to fight for our rights. This might be one of the best, if not the best win in my 23 years of coaching.”

“It is heartbreaking for the teams that weren’t allowed to be here,” GW coach Missy Smith said. “We were fortunate to be one of the teams to have a shot at this. There is only one team in the state in Class AAA that wouldn’t trade places with us, and that is Musselman.”

With the victory, No. 1 seed Musselman (23-1) wins its seventh state title under Martz. The others came in 2008, 2010, 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2017).

GW (22-4) remains at five state championships with Smith at the helm.

The matchup Saturday was a rematch from last season’s finals, which GW won. The two teams have faced off against each other for the championship four times in the past six seasons, with both the Appleman and Patriots splitting them with two each.

Over the past 16 seasons, either GW or Musselman has won the state title 12 times since 2005, and at least one of them has competed in the championship match in all but two years.

“It is fitting it came down to Musselman and GW,” Martz said. “We want to play the best. [GW] beat us down pretty good last year so it was a little bit of sweet revenge.”

The turning point of the match came with the Patriots leading two sets to one and holding a 21-14 advantage in the fourth set, four points away from another state championship and Musselman on the verge of elimination.

Musselman, though, won the next five points (three Appleman winners and two GW unforced errors) to get back in the match. A Nyla Birch kill gave the Patriots a 22-19 lead but Musselman continued to fight with a pair of winners and an unforced GW error to tie the score.

The two teams went back and forth over the next few points, leading to a 24-24 tie with the match on the line. Musselman earned a key block to take a one-point lead, and another unforced error by GW on set point allowed the Applemen to storm back from the big deficit and force a fifth and deciding set.

“Our backs were against the wall down big in the fourth set,” Martz said. “At that point, I just told the girls to lay it on the line and see what we can do. These kids have no quit in them and battled to the end. We found a way to get a run when we needed it. It felt like a dream to come back.”

“We were up big in the fourth set and thought we had them,” Smith said. “We eased off a little bit and made some mistakes. They picked up momentum. We opened the door and they stormed through it. They had all the momentum going into the fifth set, and if you get behind early you’re in trouble.”

Musselman had all the momentum on its side and it continued in the fifth and deciding set. The Applemen jumped out to a quick 9-2 lead, kept feeding sophomore Hannah Howard, and eventually rolled to an easy 15-5 win to claim the championship.

“We had that big comeback in the fourth set and for sure it carried over,” Martz said. “I expected us to get a good start and we got a good lead. There is a lot of momentum in this sport.

“Hannah Howard took over the match. She refused to let this team lose and was feeling it.”

For Musselman, Howard had 25 kills and 17 digs, Caroline Shipley had 24 assists and Isabella Hutzler added 23 assists, Sadie Wright delivered 13 kills, and Madigan Faircloth had 19 digs.