CEDAR BLUFF – For the Cedar Bluff and Spring Garden volleyball teams, things are far from perfect – at least from a consistency standpoint – from their respective coaches’ perspectives.
The two Class 1A, Area 12 rivals met in a tri-match with Chattooga (Ga.) on Tuesday evening, and while Spring Garden swept in both its matches – defeating Cedar Bluff 25-22, 25-20, 25-18, and Chattooga 25-17, 25-19 – there was still something that did not set well with Lady Panther coach Ricky Austin.
“We have those moments where we lull to sleep. I’ve got to find a way to change that,” Austin said. “Our girls play really hard when they really, really want to beat somebody. I’ve been talking to them about that a lot, but when you play a lot of volleyball, sometimes you have a tendency to get complacent. You lose some of your eagerness and fire. I feel like we’re not playing with enough grit and toughness that we’ve got to play with to get better. Obviously we’re not a bad team, but we’re not getting better at the rate I wish we were getting better.”
The lulls Austin was referring to were evident early for Spring Garden (15-6, 5-0). The Lady Panthers jumped out to a 20-12 advantage in the first set with Cedar Bluff, but the Lady Tigers made it a game late by shrinking their lead to a single point at 23-22. Spring Garden managed to take a 1-0 lead in the match by scoring the final two points.
The second set was almost the same scenario. Spring Garden held a 16-11 advantage only to see Cedar Bluff cut its lead down to a point at 18-17. The Lady Panthers closed out the second set by going on a 7-3 run.
In the third set, Spring Garden jumped out to a 16-6 edge, then saw the Lady Tigers make a bit of a run before closing things out.
Cedar Bluff coach Lyndsey Barker Mullins said her team has been inconsistent this season as well.
“We have been making young errors, but we’ve been playing really well. We came into this match and we just didn’t play up to where I feel like we can play to. Spring Garden is tough, but it was almost like the pressure was just too much for us,” she said.
“They just never quit and that’s what you expect out of her (Barker Mullins) teams,” Austin said. “I’ve been preaching it since the last time we played them. We’ve had some matches in between, but the most important one is when we go back to Cedar Bluff. It’s obviously an area matchup and you want to stay ahead in that, but you expect that coming over here. I feel like they’re getting better at a faster rate than we’re getting better.
“We’re the type team we get bored. I keep telling them that. They’ll jump on somebody, play real good, and then lose their focus and lose their intensity. Maybe it’s not that they’re bored. Maybe it’s that they’re still young, but I wish they would stay hungry until the match was over. It’s just peaks and valleys with them right now.”
Those peaks and valleys were evident again for the Lady Panthers in the Chattooga match.
Spring Garden scored the first five points in the first set and cruised to an eight-point win, but in the second set, Chattooga jumped out to an 8-4 lead. The Lady Panthers got in a rhythm by going on a 9-2 run to take a 13-10 advantage midway through the set, but Chattooga didn’t go away. Spring Garden built its lead back up late to take the match.
“We’re moving people around. It’s just trying to find some combinations that work. That’s kind of where we are,” Austin said. “A good combination is not really that far off of a bad combination for us right now. It goes back to the intensity and how hard we want to play. I’ve just got to keep finding ways to make that happen.”
Against Cedar Bluff, Ace Austin collected 12 assists, 11 kills and a block for the Lady Panthers. Aubrey Sadler added seven kills. Chloe Rule came away with four kills and a block. Maggie Jarrett posted three kills, eight assists and two blocks. Raylee Rice contributed three kills and a block.
Avery Steward managed 26 assists. Layla Ingram delivered six assists and an ace. Helena Ingram had three assists and an ace. Kristen Lewis finished with a pair of assists.
In the win over Chattooga, Ace Austin came away with 10 kills, three aces and an assist. Rule added two kills and two blocks. Rice managed two kills and a block. Law earned a kill.
Steward had 16 assists. Layla Ingram contributed three assists and an ace. Jarrett posted a pair of aces. Layla Ingram, Lewis and Timi Scogin each had an ace. Scogin and Helena Ingram both had an assist.
In the nightcap, Cedar Bluff rebounded for a three-set win over Chattooga. The scores were 11-25, 25-20 and 15-6.
Ciana Smith collected seven kills and eight digs. Mattie Payne posted 12 digs, two aces and a kill. Rylie Walker added 19 assists and a pair of kills. Kindal Grace came away with five digs and three kills. Haley Allen added four digs and an ace. Caley Bruce contributed three kills. Anslee Evans had and a dig. Lacie Roer finished with a kill.
“That first set, I wasn’t sure how we were going to rebound after losing to Spring Garden. It looked like we weren’t going to handle it as well as what we should have, but the second set, they battled back and we eventually came out with a win,” Mullins said.
“It really comes down to inconsistency. This is probably the most talented team I’ve coached since I’ve been here, but it’s also the youngest team I’ve coached since I’ve been here. Getting them to be consistent is difficult, but it’s getting better. Serve-receive killed us in the first Chattooga set, but that all goes back to being inconsistent, if we could just find that consistency.
“Another big issue we have is believing in ourselves. I believe in them, and the coaches believe in them, but they don’t believe in themselves. They have so much potential. They all strive for perfection, but when it’s not perfect we struggle. They’re like that in the classroom. I taught every one of them. When it’s not perfect, we go bananas. That’s why I focus on so much on we have to pass, we have to set and we have to hit. That’s what we have to do to keep us in a system and not in chaos.”
In the loss to Spring Garden, Roer came away with six kills and a pair of blocks. Smith contributed five kills and 16 digs. Payne posted 19 digs. Grace collected five kills, two digs, an ace and a block. Walker added 21 assists and five digs. Allen delivered seven digs and two aces. Bruce had three kills and a dig. Evans finished with a pair of kills and a block.