By R. Alan Richardson
Finally! My good friend Ricky “The Doctor” Cochran loves volleyball about as much as I do. He was kind enough to cart me out in my wheelchair to watch my first game of any kind in the early goings of Bulldog Fall sports. It was a doozy of an evening with the netters taking two matches in a third set tiebreaker over both Athens Academy and Eastside. The scores against the Academy were 17-25, 25-20, and 17-15 in overtime fashion. The Eagles fell to the Lady Dogs by scores of 25-16, 22-25, and 15-9.
The girls had to make a come-from-behind win after losing the first set to Athens Academy. The team was a little sluggish coming out of the gate falling behind 5-1 in the first set and never fully recovering from the slow start. It was all Lady Spartans as they bolted out to big leads of 13-3 and 15-4. Morgan cut the lead to 19-15 and 21-15 mainly on the play of Brooke Butler at the net. However, the visitors finished out the set on some strong net play of their own. That put Coach Carrie McClain’s team behind the eight ball as they now had to win two straight sets.
That’s just what they did. The second set saw the Lady Dogs right the ship and start playing their game. It started just the opposite as Morgan jumped out strong taking a 4-0 lead behind the service game of Anna Cox. They extended the lead to 7-2 and 8-3 after a major kill by Emma Silvey. At the midway point of the match Morgan was up 15-5. At that point the Spartans began to assert themselves and put on a big-time run of 10 straight points. With the score 19-8, Athens Academy ran off those 10 to make it 19-18. The momentum had totally changed and the Dogs looked like they were going down. However, the team gathered themselves. After a kill by McKenzie Larate, a block by Presley Hill, another kill by Makenzie Pitzer, and the final Pitzer, the girls pulled it out 25-20.
Now on to set three and the tiebreaker. This one could have gone either way. It was back-and-forth for the 15 point win with both squads not giving in or wanting to lose. The two well-coached teams (AA’s coach was an All-American at Kentucky) battled to the end. There were 17 ties and lead changes in this one. Keys in the final set 17-5 win and 3-set victory were Larate, Silvey, Cox, Pitzer, Butler, and the rest of the team. It was a tight match between two really good squads. Morgan hasn’t beaten the Lady Spartan that often. One fan thought this might have been the first time ever!
After Athens Academy dispatched Eastside in the middle contest, it was Morgan’s turn to face off with the Eastside Lady Eagles. This is another team that year-in and year-out has a quality program. The match turned out to be just as good as the first one.
The Lady Dogs took the first set in fairly easy fashion after Eastside make a comeback run during the middle stretches of the contest. After four ties in the early going and the score knotted 4-4, Hill rolled off three points from serve to give Morgan the 7-4 lead. An ace served up by Cox pushed the lead to 11-7 and Butler then got two more points off her serve to make the score 14-9. The Eagles jumped back up on offense to close the gap to 14-12 before MCHS took control of the set. Larate reeled off five straight that included an ace for the 21-12 lead. It was over from there. The final three points came off serves from Silvey, and kills by Pitzer, Butler, and Silvey. All of these were bombs for the 25-16 victory.
Set two didn’t go the way of the Lady Dogs losing 25-22. It was a close one again to tie the match and push things to a third set to determine the winner. The girls again got stellar play from their usual cast of characters. Eastside took a slim lead by a one point margin at 9-8 before Morgan rallied behind server Gracie Christian. She rattled off six straight points for a commanding 14-9 lead, but this one was a long ways from over. With the Lady Dogs leading 18-14, the Lady Eagles got things going with a six point run to take the 20-18 advantage. Morgan closed it to one point at 20-19, and then to 24-22 before Eastside closed the second set out.
Overtime again and the home team came out firing for a 5-0 lead behind the serve of Cox again. They extended that lead to 7-1 behind the hard-hitting of Butler with slams at the net. Eastside wasn’t giving in as they fought back to a 13-8 score (third sets are played to 15, not 25). Larate got a kill at the net and Cox serve finished off the Spartans for the 15-9 set and match.
Butler commented on the game with these words, “We’re young, but we have a lot of experience and team chemistry. I think this year I feel more relaxed and I trust myself more than last season.” Larate added, “Our practices are a little different than with Coach Olivia (on maternity leave). Not saying that’s bad, but we’re still trying to figure things out for this new group without Bailey (Shultz is the reigning Region Player-of-the-Year in 2018) and some new players. We have a different team dynamic that has brought us closer together. We’re working hard on our defense without Bailey, but we’re also very familiar with all the returning starters we have.”
Coach McClain gave us these words at the end of the evening, “I think this team needs to get over their highs and lows. We are sometimes our own worst enemy. The girls need to learn how to move on after mistakes. I’m very proud of the girls after tonight. It’s usually later in the season when we start believing we can come back after a disadvantage or long runs by our opponents. It’s good to see, especially when you are playing some very strong competition like we did tonight.”
This team seems to be more resilient and doesn’t have a single senior on the squad. Watch out for this team for at least the next two seasons. The 2018 Region Champions could extend that streak this year and beyond. We certainly hope so.