• Rick Capone, Sports Editor

WCHS volleyball beats Western Hills in five games

The Woodford County High School volleyball team might be young “on paper,” but they played like veteran upperclassman as they overcame a season-ending injury to a key player, senior Morgan Kennedy, but then dug down, regained momentum and scored an exciting 3-2 (25-23, 25-23, 19-25, 20-25, 15-10) road win over district rival Western Hills on Thursday, Aug. 18. With that win, and their 2-1 (25-18, 20-25, 25-22) season opening road win over Marion County on Tuesday, Aug. 16, Woodford is now 2-0 this season. “Overall, I was pleased with how we played in our season opener against Marion County,” said third-year Woodford head coach Megan Bottom. “We came out with a lot of focus, energy, and aggression early on. While these components ebbed and flowed during the match, the team learned the importance of having consistency in all three of these areas in order to be successful.”

While the win over Marion County was a good way to start the season, the win over Western Hills, a district rival, especially on the road, is even more important as the Lady Jackets now have confidence in their playing abilities after such a strong comeback win to start the year off. “They came out and they were ready to play (against Western Hills),” said Bottom. “They were ready to win. We talked about working hard in practice and fighting. The 12 of them versus everybody else. And, they came out with that mentality. “Then, when Kennedy went down, they had to rally back around her. They kind of got into a lull, which is no excuse. They still need to be able to push through. But, they were able to recover and finish out to get the win.” The first two games were tight ones from start to finish. In the first game there were seven ties and five lead changes, and at one point near the end of the first game, Woodford was down by five points twice. In the game, Western Hills opened an early 3-1 lead, but Woodford came back to tie it 5-5. The teams continued to battle, tying 6-6, 7-7, and 10-10. Western Hills then took a lead and widened it to five points, 18-13 and 19-14. The Lady Jackets did not slow down and, with senior Mary Crutchfield serving, finally came back to tie the game, 22-22. Crutchfield, the team’s libero and a solid defensive floor leader, continued to serve strong, and four points later, she served to help win the game 25-23. Game two went almost exactly the way the first one went, as both teams played hard and stayed close. At the start, Western Hills led out of the gate and took two four-point leads, 6-2 and 7-3, but Woodford fought back, tied it 7-7, and then took its first lead 8-7. Back and forth the two teams went, and following six of the game’s 10 ties and six lead changes, Woodford took a two-point lead on Crutchfield’s serve, 22-20. Western Hills came back to tie it, 23-23, but then Woodford scored on a Western Hills error to take a 24-23 lead.

Then, with freshman Karigan Smith serving, the Lady Wolverines made another attack error to give Woodford a 25-23 game two win. While it was great to take a 2-0 games lead in the match, the hardest part for Woodford was that during that second game their senior setter, Kennedy Morgan, went down after a hit and was injured and had to come out of the game. It was later determined to be a severe injury and she is going to be out for the season. In the third game, and most of the fourth game, the Lady Jackets appeared to be tired as they tried to adjust from a 6-2 offense (with two setters) to a 5-1 offense with one setter in freshman Evelyn Milburn. Western Hills wasted no time taking advantage of it and, while Woodford kept things close, even tied it 18-18, the Lady Wolverines pounced and got the game three win, 25-19. Then in game four, Western Hills took an early 6-4 lead and never looked back, winning the game 25-20. While the Lady Wolverines celebrated the win and tying the match, 2-2, what they failed to notice was the momentum Woodford gained during that fourth game, coming back from 18-6 to get within five points at the end, 25-20. “A little tired,” said Bottom about her team’s play in the third and a part of the fourth game. “The emotions from the second game really took over in the third and the fourth. They started to rally out of it in the fourth and were able to push in the fifth.” Push indeed, as Woodford used the momentum coming out of the fourth game and took an early 4-0 lead in the fifth game. Western Hills did not let up though and came back to tie it, 6-6. The two teams battled back and forth, tying it 7-7, 8-8, 9-9, 10-10, and each time Woodford responded by retaking the lead after all of those ties. Finally, following the 10-10 tie, the Lady Jackets opened things up. With Smith serving, they ran off four straight points on two aces, a kill, and a Western Hills error to take a 14-10 lead. The Lady Wolverines, now desperate, took a timeout to try and “freeze” Smith, but it did not work, as she made another great serve. Then, when the ball came back over the net, Gililland made a hard hit that Western Hills could not return, which gave Woodford the game, 15-10, and the match 3-2. “Overall, any time you play a district rival at the beginning of the season, there’s always stuff to work on,” said Bottom. “But, they showed togetherness. They showed fight. They showed work ethic.” On Milburn’s play at setter, switching from a 6-2 to 5-2 midway in the match due to Morgan’s injury, Bottom said, “Evelyn is up and coming as a freshman setter. She still has to work out some kinks. She got a little fatigued on me (in this match), which is to be expected. She wasn’t expecting to run a 5-1. But, for a freshman to step up, that’s huge. And, she’s got an awesome jump serve, too. So, I’m very excited to see what’s going to come out for Evelyn down the road.” There were a few other players Bottom wanted to mention about their play in the match. “(Senior Caleigh Evans) is a senior middle (and) one of my captains, so I expect her to step up and be able to lead,” said Bottom. “She was able to battle through some mistakes that she made and put balls down and get points at key times for us.” Also, “Mary (Cruthfield)’s a defensive captain and knows where everybody needs to go on the court,” said Bottom. “She knows everything going on all the time and is able to positively talk to the rest of the team about where they need to go. As far as adjustments need to be made on the court, she’s able to lead. “I also want to say Sophie Adams made some great, scrappy plays. Her and Mary and Caleigh are my three captains, and they stepped up tonight and got the win. I’m proud of them.”

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