Ticket finally punched: Madison volleyball headed to state tournament for first time

Photo: John Berry

Madison County volleyball has been so close so many times. The Mountaineers have been one of the most consistent teams in the regular season for more than a decade but getting that ticket to the state tournament has been the white elephant in the room.


On Tuesday night in front of a packed crowd, Madison had its moment.


The Mountaineers fought off a comeback rally in the first set. They cruised in the second. Then in the third, they battled it out to put together a clean sweep. With a 3-0 win of East Rockingham in the Region 2B semifinals, 25-22, 25-13, 25-21, Madison is finally headed to the Class 2A tournament for the first time in school history.


“We finally made it over the hump,” said Madison coach Carrie Hardy. “It’s such a big step for this program, such a big moment. It’s the right direction. After the second game, things started to feel real, like this was going to happen. We’re just really excited that it did.”


Although a sweep in games, it was not easy. Madison was knotted up against East Rockingham 6-6 in the first set before racing out to an 18-12 lead behind the hitting of Ava Jenkins, Abigail Tanner and Allie Burbridge. But with Eagles jack-of-all trades Makayla Jones leading the way on offense and defense, East Rockingham was able to cut the deficit to 22-19 to make things interesting down the stretch, surviving a set point at 24-22. However the Mountaineers were able to take the first game on a miscue and head into the second with a little breathing room up 1-0.


“I think it gave us momentum but also let us realize that we cannot let down at all,” said Madison senior setter Makenna Santinga. “It made us work harder to close out.”


The second set was all Madison despite a 6-6 start. The Mountaineers put together a 5-1 run to go up 11-6, then an 8-2 run to make it 18-9 with Santinga working the ball around to her talented trio up front. Madison finished the job swiftly this time around, taking seven of the next 11 points for a 25-13 win to establish a comfortable 2-0 set advantage and put East Rockingham up against the ropes.


“Makenna is such a great player, we call her out quarterback,” Brown said. “She paces our offense, she does such a great job. She communicates so well with our hitters which is so important, but she does a little bit of everything too and means so much to us.”


In the third set, there was little wiggle room. The Mountaineers built an 8-5 advantage early before turning into a 15-10 lead, but the Eagles fought through it to make it a 19-18 game. A big kill from Burbridge and an ace from Jenkins gave Madison a 21-18 advantage. Burbridge then had two kills in the next four point to set up match point. A hitting error by East Rockingham gave Madison the win at 25-21.


“It felt so good because we lost to them in a scrimmage before the season began so we didn’t know what to expect,” Burbridge said. “We’ve just learned this year how to turn it on at just the right point, bringing it on at those certain times where you have to. The program has never been to this point and so many of us have been playing together since our freshman year, it’s just nice to finally get here.”


On the night, Burbridge finished with 15 kills and four aces. Tanner had seven kills and 10 digs. Jenkins had five. Santinga had 28 assists and 14 digs in a solid all-around showing.


“I found the middles were hitting really well to the deep corners,” Santinga said. “Our outsides were doing a really good job of hitting to where (the Eagles defense) wasn’t and our right side did really well too. So it was really just ‘who’s on?’ at that point.”


Madison (23-1) will now play host to George Mason in the Region 2B championship game on Wednesday at 7 p.m. The two split the regular season with the Mountaineers winning 3-1 in early October, the Mustangs winning 3-0 on October 18. Madison won the Bull Run District championship between the two last week 3-0 to take the rubber match. Now they’ll play for a fourth time with home court advantage in the state tournament next week on the line.


“We’re thankful to be at home and Mason is going to come and play hard and want this as much as we do,” Hardy said. “We’re ready though, we’re excited and hungry and you can’t ask for more than that at this point in the season.”