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Canton Claims First Volleyball Playoff Win in Program History in Sweep of Gilmer

Canton’s Velvet Blaylock celebrates point during the Eaglettes’ sweep of Gilmer on Tuesday. (Richard Shoemaker, ETSN.fm)

HAWKINS — The Canton Eaglettes accomplished something tonight never before seen in their volleyball program.

They swept the Gilmer Buckeyes 25-23, 27-25, 25-20 in the Class 3A Region II bi-district playoff, marking their first volleyball playoff win in the school’s history.

“Being our first bi-district game in Canton history, it was very, very emotional,” said Canton coach Tobin Thurman. “We’ve never made the playoffs before, and to see those girls jell together and give it everything they had, it was amazing.”

Leading the way for the Eaglettes were seniors Sierra Zielke and Brittany Brewer. Zielke tallied 10 kills, 10 assists, and two aces, while Brewer added 11 kills, three blocks, and an ace. Canton (20-11, 6-4) faces Paris North Lamar in the area round at a time and place to be determined.

“(Zielke) is our leader. You can ask her to do anything, and she’ll do it,” Thurman said. “She plays with everything she has. There is no stopping her when she puts her mind to it.”

“My girls had the first-game jitters at the beginning, and started showing it at the end, too,” said Gilmer coach Keely Schlabs. “We couldn’t catch a break call-wise, and one of my starting outsides (Makayla Sikes) was out this game, so I had three people rotating in positions that don’t see much game time.”

Tied 2-2 in the first set, Canton reeled off nine consecutive points thanks to junior setter Brantlee Neff’s three aces and Zielke’s two kills. Gilmer (22-14, 9-3) scratched back to take a 23-21 lead behind the play of Shaylee Fennell and Jasmin Jones. Fennell assisted on five of Jones’ kills and added three kills of her own. But an ace by Canton’s Madi Allen and two kills by Brewer clinched the first set for Canton, 25-23.

Fennell finished with four kills and 14 assists. Jones added 10 kills, two assists, and 12 digs.

In the second set, Canton jumped to a 5-2 advantage, but Gilmer clawed back to take an 11-8 lead behind Jessie Jacoby’s two kills and Maci Ritter’s three blocks. Back-to-back aces by Neff helped Canton to a 20-17 lead, but the Lady Buckeyes took the lead back, 24-22, and looked poised to capture the second set. Zielke then had two kills and Velvet Blaylock clinched Game 2 for Canton with a kill of her own.

Ritter, a sophomore, finished with eight blocks and four kills.

Canton led 13-12 in the third set and closed the night on a 12-8 run led by Zielke’s three kills, plus sophomore Brianna Rhines’ two kills and two blocks.

“We preached high-intensity, non-stop play in our offseason and weight program, and I think it’s paying off high dividends late in games because we still have our legs underneath us,” Thurman said.

Gilmer’s Shaylee Fennell sets the ball during Canton’s 3-0 win vs. the Lady Buckeyes on Tuesday. (Richard Shoemaker, ETSN.fm)

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