SAND ROCK – In their first area volleyball meeting back on Sept. 10, Spring Garden swept Sand Rock after the Lady Wildcats had trouble finishing sets.
In a rematch on Monday night, Sand Rock passed a gut-check. The Lady Wildcats went the distance with Spring Garden, but earned a 25-23, 21-25, 17-25, 25-16, 15-13 win to improve to 14-6 on the season (3-1 Class 2A, Area 12).
“It wasn’t at all like when we played at Spring Garden (on Sept. 10),” Sand Rock coach Lisa Bates said. “(There) it was a tight game, tight game, then we just laid down and died. I was glad we didn’t just quit. I was afraid we were going to quit then, but I’m glad we’re getting a little mentally tougher. That’s the biggest thing with these girls. They’ve got all the ability to be really competitive. I’m glad we’re pushing through and getting mentally tougher so we can finish.”
That mental toughness was seen throughout each of the sets on Monday night. Spring Garden (17-5, 3-1) built a 21-13 edge in game one, but the Lady Wildcats dug in and rallied for a 25-23 win on an ace by Caley Garrett.
Speaking of digging in, games two and three saw the Lady Panthers do a little of that themselves.
With the second set tied at 20, Spring Garden went on a 5-1 run late to even the match. Then in the third set, Spring Garden closed it out on a 10-2 run after being tied at 15 to take the lead in the match.
In the fourth set, the Lady Panthers led 5-1 early before Sand Rock caught up. Tied at 7, Sand Rock finished off the set by going on an 18-9 run to force a fifth and deciding game.
The fifth set was back and forth, with neither team holding more than a two-point edge, which proved to be the difference.
“I feel like we made some more hustle plays that we have not been making,” Bates said. “I’ve been harping on them that’s two points a game we’re missing out on. It’s going to make a difference against a team as high-quality as Spring Garden. I think we had more serious effort. It gave us a couple of more plays, and that makes a difference. If we’re going to be playing two-point games with folks, we’re going to have to have that extra hustle.”
Spring Garden coach Ricky Austin wasn’t surprised the match went the distance.
“We didn’t ever really flip that switch, like ‘Hey, let’s win this thing,’” Austin said. “We had a lot of passing errors, receiving errors. It seemed like when we started to get a little bit of momentum we’d shoot ourselves in the foot. We didn’t slow (Lanie) Henderson down at all. She dominated when she was on the front. Whenever that fifth game rolled around and she came in, I said ‘Well, she’s in to finish it off.’ We still had a chance to win, but she was a difference to me. Our mistakes and Lanie in the middle was the difference.
“They’ve got a lot of players who cover the floor well, pass well. It’s a tough team to beat. You’ve got to earn it. You don’t play around and hope they’re going to make enough mistakes to win the game for you. You’ve got to earn it. We weren’t able to do that.”
Bates said the Lady Wildcats’ matches with Spring Garden this season remind her of their former area matches with Cedar Bluff last season.
“It depends on who’s on and who’s feeling good, feisty and energetic that day,” she said. “I think that was a good mental win for us because we needed to know we could beat them.”
Henderson led the Lady Wildcats with 15 kills and three blocks. Hannah Davis contributed 12 kills, 16 digs and five aces. Garrett posted 34 digs. Maci Brown added seven kills and four blocks. McKenna Ballenger managed 24 assists and nine digs. Cheyanne Fuqua had seven kills and Jadyn Foster had six kills. Jacey Stephens collected seven aces, 20 assists and four kills. Makenzi Blackwell finished with four aces and nine digs.
Neely Welsh topped Spring Garden with 15 assists, 12 kills and a pair of blocks. Haleigh Molock managed seven kills and three digs. Abbey Steward added 20 assists. Alle Jennings posted nine kills and three assists. Autumn Sides finished with five blocks.