SPRING GARDEN – One of the greatest compliments a team can give a coach is to demonstrate they’ve learned what has been taught at practice.
Spring Garden volleyball coach Ricky Austin saw just that on Thursday night in the Lady Panthers’ Class 2A, Area 12 home match against Sand Rock. They swept the Lady Wildcats in a closely-contested battle throughout, 25-23, 25-23, 25-15.
The turning point for both teams was the second set. Sand Rock (7-2, 2-1) had built a 23-19 lead, but couldn’t finish it off. Meanwhile, the momentum was shifting to Spring Garden’s side.
“That’s the first time since I’ve gotten back coaching (volleyball) in three years that we’ve had a team respond that deep in a game, down that many points and being able to win it,” Austin said. “Like I told them at the end of the game, they should do that kind of stuff because they’re experienced juniors and seniors. That is their potential. They’ve just got to remember that and don’t ever give up, play it out.”
“Even down 20-16, I thought we had a chance and they believed they had a chance. We do some drills at practice where I put them down (on the scoreboard). Usually we’re down 22-19 and we play it out. The losing team runs. They have been going through that a couple of years now. Down 20-16, I didn’t see any panic. I didn’t see anybody quit. They were almost like ‘Hey, we’ve got this. We’re used to this.’ I saw a little bit of practice showing up in some of the things we did.”
The momentum Spring Garden (8-2, 1-0) had in the late stages of the second set carried over into the third. The Lady Panthers jumped out to a 17-7 lead in that one before Sand Rock attempted to rally.
Spring Garden’s overall performance overshadowed that of Sand Rock’s Caley Garrett and McKenzie Blackwell’s passing.
“We passed the ball extremely well. Caley Garrett and McKenzi Blackwell put the ball on the money,” Sand Rock coach Lisa Bates said. “We were getting the ball to the setter. We were getting it set, but I can’t tell you how many Xs we had on the (stat) page. We would hit it in the net, out of bounds, into the block. We missed more serves than we’re used to. We just could not get the flow going because we couldn’t finish.
“Some of it is inexperience. Some of our hitters haven’t experienced that kind of pressure. They just beat us mentally today.”
Neely Welsh accumulated 12 assists, three kills, an ace and a block for the Lady Panthers. Abbey Steward added six assists and four aces. Haleigh Molock managed four kills and a block. Lexie Adkison and Alle Jennings both had three kills. Autumn Sides delivered three blocks and two kills. Suzie Carter finished with two kills and a block.
Garrett posted 30 digs for Sand Rock. Hannah Davis delivered nine kills and 11 digs. Lanie Henderson had eight kills and three blocks. Blackwell contributed 11 digs. McKenna Ballenger added 17 assists. Maci Brown contributed seven kills, and Jacey Stephens finished with five kills and 12 assists.
“This being in 2A, it’s a different feel for us, but that’s just one game,” Austin said. “Our paths are going to cross a lot this year. We’ve got to understand let’s enjoy this, but we’re not going to get too high and get back to practice. We could see them again Saturday (at the Champions Academy Tournament in Alexandria). We know we’re going to see Sand Rock a lot.”
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