SPRING GARDEN – The Spring Garden Lady Panthers took firm control of the Class 1A, Area 12 volleyball race on Tuesday, and it isn’t even September yet.
Having already defeated area rivals Jacksonville Christian and Coosa Christian earlier, the Lady Panthers played their third area opponent of the month in rival Cedar Bluff. They swept the Lady Tigers in three sets 25-17, 25-17, 25-21 to improve to 6-4 on the season, but more importantly, 3-0 in area play.
“It’s early to be satisfied, but it’s okay to be pleased right now,” Lady Panther head coach Ricky Austin said. “We’re young. We’ve got a couple of seniors, a couple of juniors. They’re important players, but we’re surrounding them with a lot of youth. I think we can continue to grow. I think our older kids give our young kids enough space to grow. It’s a great combination from what I see right now. We’ve just got to keep working.”
That work continued on Tuesday.
Cedar Bluff (1-9, 0-1) jumped out to an early 4-0 advantage in the first set, but the Lady Panthers quickly tied things up and forged ahead. They took a 16-11 advantage, forcing Cedar Bluff coach Lyndsey Barker Mullins to take a timeout. The Lady Tigers responded with a pair of points to trim the lead to 16-13, but Spring Garden went on a 9-4 run to finish off the set.
The Lady Panthers set the tone in the second set, taking a 3-0 lead en route to a 15-7 advantage and maintained the pace the rest of the set to take a 2-0 lead.
In the third set, Spring Garden once again took momentum early with a 13-4 lead before Cedar Bluff responded. The Lady Tigers managed to cut their deficit down to three points late at 24-21, but it was too little too late.
“Sadly that’s the story of us right now. We play well, then we lose it,” Mullins said. “I’m not one to make a lot of excuses, but I think a lot of it is our inexperience. If we’re good in spurts, if we can play well in spurts, then we can play well for 25 points. We’ve just got to get over it. Mentally we’re just not where we need to be.”
“Game three started to get a little bit tight, but I thought Olivia Law made a big hit on the left side when it was 23-19,”Austin said. “If that ball doesn’t go down, then they had momentum. I was glad to see somebody else finish besides the ones who are used to finishing. That’s what we’re looking for.”
Ace Austin led the Lady Panthers with 14 kills, nine assists, two aces and a block. Chloe Rule collected seven kills and two blocks. Aubrey Sadler added four kills. Maggie Jarrett contributed three kills, three assists and an ace. Raylee Rice came away with two kills and a block. Avery Steward managed 24 assists. Layla Ingram had eight assists and an ace. Helena Ingram delivered two aces and two assists. Law finished with a kill and Kristen Lewis an assist.
“I thought we played with a lot of energy,” Coach Austin said. “It’s Cedar Bluff, and it means something to these kids. I thought I saw that extra energy it takes to do that. We’ve kind of started hitting our stride this past weekend. I thought that carried over into today. I was waiting to see that. I’m very pleased with the effort. We’ve been working on a few new things. We saw it develop tonight.”
Kindal Grace and Lacie Roer led Cedar Bluff with seven kills apiece. Grace also had four digs and Roer had three blocks. Graceland Benton collected five kills, three digs and an ace. Mattie Payne posted 27 digs. Rylie Walker came away with 29 assists. Caley Bruce contributed three kills and a block. Anslee Evans managed two kills, two blocks and a dig. Ciana Smith finished with a pair of kills.