St. James hosted Salem for a battle of the Lady Tigers on Tuesday, Aug. 22. After the JV won in two incredibly close sets 27-25, 25-23, the varsity took the court for their season opener. St. James had an inconsistent night, falling 15-25, 26-14, 18-25.
The first set of the night started with a lot of back and forth. Neither team of Lady Tigers was able to put together much of a run early on and the game was tied at 11 midway through the match. St. James did an excellent job blocking all night long, but their play at the net wasn't perfect. Hitting was a problem for St. James at several times during the night and it opened the door for Salem to run away with the first set. Salem scored 10 of the last 13 points in the match, beating St. James 25-15.
The second set looked like a different St. James team. Senior captain Mackenzie Rodgers was leading the charge, as she did all night, keeping the positivity up throughout the match. The Lady Tigers took a 9-6 early on, but then their serving started to go downhill. Every time St. James seemed to make a big play that could spark a run, a serve would go into the net or soar over the back line. Salem managed to tie the match at 15 and neither team led by more than two points for the rest of the set. The points went back and forth for the remainder of the match, but St. James had the last laugh. Salem had a 24-23 lead and was on the verge of winning the match when Mackenna Rodgers buried a kill to tie the game at 24. That was just the push St. James needed to finish off a 26-24 win.
"That was a huge play," said head coach Julie Guese of Mackenna's big kill near the end of the set. "Everyone just talked about it in the locker room when I asked for some good things from them and that was a huge one."
Salem did not like losing that second set and they came out punching in the third, scoring the first four points of the set. St. James tried to dig their way back into the game, but the young team struggled to put anything together. Spacing and communication fell apart in the final set, and as a result Mack Rodgers seemingly tried to overcompensate by getting to every ball Salem sent over the net. St. James was able to put together a comeback attempt late by scoring seven straight points, but Salem shut the door and won the match 25-18. Coach Guese said her team needs to focus on consistency. As a very young team with three freshmen, consistency will come with more experience.
"The good thing is that the things we were kind of messing up on most of the time are fixable. We're pretty young. They started to get a little more comfortable at times, but more experience will help with the consistency," said Guese. "We just had a conversation about missed serves. We missed five one game, six in another game, so that's a big big deal."
While the Lady Tigers weren't able to open their season with a win, there were some definite positives to take out of the game. St. James dug well despite not having someone to hit to them in practice other than when former Lady Tiger Kenzie Guese could come to practice. The freshmen also played extremely well all night long. Mackenna Rodgers and Hannah Marcee were both extremely active all game long, with Marcee blocking the ball extremely well, blocking seven balls on the night. Makiah Marshall didn't see quite as much of the court as the other two freshmen, but she was strong at the net most of the night. Coach Guese loved what she saw out of her young players.
"I thought they did a great job," said Guese of her freshmen. "They played hard. They wanted the ball. In huddles, they were asking 'are we gonna get the ball? Are we gonna get the ball to us?' and I told them if we get good passes, we'll get the ball to them. They understand that too. They want the ball and that's an excellent thing. They're not shying away. You've got Hannah there blocking big.
"You've got three of them coming from eighth grade ball to varsity and for the two of them that played on St. James, that was just like four months ago," continued Guese. "I definitely give them credit for what they did tonight."
The Lady Tigers will look to learn from this experience and they'll have some time off to work on things. St. James will have a full week off from games before returning to action with a rivalry matchup against Rolla on Tuesday, Aug. 29.