Lady Wildcats come away unscathed from tough road matches to start the season
There is always some nervousness going into the first volleyball game of the season, Holton High School volleyball coach Janelle Noel admitted, and you can never know for certain how a team will perform.
While the Wildcats had some rough patches here and there on the road in Leonardville on Tuesday, HHS shook it off and managed to win a pair of matches, including one over a ranked opponent, to start the 2015 campaign.
In high school volleyball, the first team to 25 points in a set is victorious (though sets must be decided by two or more points) and the first squad to win two sets takes the match.
First up, Holton squared off against host Riley County. While Noel said the team might have been lacking some oomph in that match, the Wildcats consistently stayed ahead of the Falcons on the way to a victory, 25-12 and 25-20.
“I don’t think we played as intense as we could, but I thought we played very well for the game. We kind of kept the flow going, we continued to hit, we were aggressive and that helped out in the long run,” Noel said.
The Wildcats also managed to string together their points two, three and four at a time, which Noel said was crucial to her team keeping the advantage.
Wabaunsee, ranked third in Class 2A, awaited second-ranked (Class 4A-DII) Holton in a prime match-up to close out the night. To add to the difficulty, the Chargers had already squeezed in a full tournament the weekend before while it was the Wildcats’ first night of competition.
Holton started a little slow in that match, but Noel noted it wasn’t because of the schedule, it was the mistakes the Wildcats were making that hurt them.
“We weren’t playing bad. We just weren’t playing very smart and Wabaunsee was playing really smart,” Noel said. “They were putting it where we were not. I just felt like we were almost over-thinking and making it hard on ourselves.”
It didn’t take long for the Wildcats to snap out of it, though, as Mackenzie Moore and Lauren Leavendusky had some key blocks in the following set that seemed to sap the momentum for the Chargers and fuel Holton at the same time.
Megan Rhule and Hayley Thompson were strong as well, and Thompson in particular got hot and Noel noted the team kept feeding her in the last two sets as the Wildcats made their comeback.
Those contributions cannot be overlooked, but it was the defensive turnaround that may have ultimately turned the tide in Holton’s favor. Courtney Boswell can always be counted on for a solid performance, Noel said, but what Shari Riley did might have made the biggest impact.
“I thought Shari Riley really stepped it up. She made a lot of plays defensively that, I don’t know, they almost looked impossible and she got there, somehow made a play on it and kept us alive,” Noel said.
All this started to have an effect in the third and decisive final set, with the HHS defense picking up Wabaunsee and the entire team executing all the little things that Noel preaches in practice, allowing Holton to come away with a 15-25, 25-20 and 25-15 victory.
“When we got to the third set, though, it’s like it clicked. We were intense, we were talking and we were just going out and playing really well and that’s probably the biggest thing,” Noel said. “It felt good to see them get the intensity back and do what it takes to win.”
Most importantly, according to Noel, is that what the coaching staff preaches in practice seems to have sunk in after Tuesday’s games The Wildcats did the little things necessary to get the sweep, but they’re still not satisfied.
Next time out, Noel said her players are already focused on handling their business in two sets and that’s a good attitude to have moving forward, according to the coach.
“We played well, but that’s not our best. They know they’re better than that, so I think as long as we keep improving and getting better every game we should have a pretty successful season,” Noel said.
Holton (2-0) will now get set to start league competition as the team travels to Elwood to take on Riverside in a pair of matches starting at 5 p.m. on Thursday.
Sept. 1, 2015
Holton def. Riley County: 25-12 and 25-20
Holton def. Wabaunsee: 15-25, 25-20 and 25-15
Holton def. Riley County: 17-25, 25-12 and 15-0
Holton def. Wabaunsee: 25-16 and 25-14
Holton def. Riley County: 25-11 and 25-14
Holton def. Wabaunsee: 25-17 and 25-19