The Rolla (2-1) and St. James (0-2) volleyball teams matched up for their cross town rivalry game on Tuesday, Aug. 29. The Lady Bulldogs dominated the first set, but St. James came back and gave them a solid game in the second. The Lady Tigers weren't quite able to force a third set, however, and Rolla took the match in straight sets 25-8, 25-23.
Rolla looked like they were on their way to an easy win in the first set against the Lady Tigers, as they took the first five points on their way to a 9-2 lead early. After a small St. James comeback attempt, Rolla went on a tear. The Lady Bulldogs sprinted out to a 22-7 lead and never looked back on their way to a 25-8 win in the set.
The second set was a different story. Rolla head coach Stephanie Pritchett decided to start the set with a few backups in the lineup so they could get some action and St. James took advantage. St. James took the first five points of the second set with senior captain Mackenzie Rodgers serving and felt a much needed surge of confidence. Rolla managed to take the next five points to tie the set, and they were gridlocked for the remainder of the set. St. James managed to stretch their lead back out to three at a couple of points in the match, but neither team was able to build a larger lead.
Rolla started to fold in their starters as the match continued, but the Lady Tigers still managed to keep pace with them point for point. As the set continued, things were tied at 19 before Rolla started to take control of the set. They won three straight points before St. James was able to respond, bringing their lead to 22-20. After trading points, Rolla took a 24-21 lead, but a long serve gave the possession back to Rolla. The Lady Tigers were able to get within one point, but a hitting error ended the St. James comeback attempt. Rolla took the set 25-23 to take the match in straight sets.
Shelby Ply led the Lady Bulldogs offensively with seven kills. Megan Brown added four kills, while Rebecca Janke had three. The passing game saw Sophie Parsons lead the way with six assists, while Leah Rasco had five and Loran Pritchett had four. Parsons also had six aces, while Madalyn Franks led the team with seven. Macy Moreland locked down the back like with six dig defensively.
In retrospect, coach Pritchett wishes she had put in her starters to kick off the second set, rather than put her backups in. Not that her backups struggled, but several players took their feet off the gas because they thought they had the match in the bag.
"I completely changed the lineup so I could get everybody in," said coach Pritchett. "When I did that, it wasn't necessary those (substitutions) that played badly, but as a unit, we were not cohesive. Instead of us just playing our positions and going on and realizing someone different was out there, the people who were out there basically didn't hold up their end of the bargain.
"We let down because we beat them so exceptionally in the first game," continued the Rolla head coach. "We let down because we thought we should beat them and we did not play our positions well."
St. James did get the boost of some great serving by Mack Rodgers at the start of the set. Head coach Julie Guese thought the start from Rodgers was crucial in her team building some confidence.
"It's huge. She's the leader anyways, so to get her up and pumped and everybody else going, that was just what we needed," said coach Guese. "Things just started coming together and they started being scrappy and knowing they could do it. I told them they don't have to be big hitters that hit everything straight down if they're smart. They started finding that hole in the middle and that really got them going."
But Mack Rodgers wasn't the only one who got things going for St. James in the second set. Her sister Mackenna really picked things up in the second set, as did a number of other Lady Tigers.
"We had big plays from all of them on the court, not just Mack," said Guese. "Her sister Mackenna was digging the heck out of the ball. I mean, she made some awesome digs out there, I was so proud of her. Makiah (Marshall) was up there blocking the heck out of the ball and she was pumped. Hannah Marcee was doing the same thing. Those girls blocking for us is a big deal because you can get the team so pumped up by a good block."
With a young team like St. James with the three freshmen named by coach Guese, confidence is everything. They needed that second set to prove to themselves that they can play with good teams like Rolla.
"They're tough. Confidence is so huge," said Guese. "If they keep their confidence, everyone is going to be watching out for them. We've got so much potential, it's just the confidence."
Rolla's experience helped them as the second set went on, because they've played so many of those close sets in the past.
"They had to keep fighting," said coach Pritchett. "We had some inconsistency with our serving at the last part of that game, but they fought through it, which was good. They also realized what they didn't do. They realized it was their fault, not the people I put in, it was their fault. I'll take my share of the blame for just not starting people and subbing them in instead of starting the lineup out there."
The biggest difference between the sets for coach Pritchett was passing. Rolla passed extremely well in the first set and it resulted in an easy win.
"When we pass, we're a good team," said Prichett. "When we serve well, obviously, we play defense okay and we're a good team."
Coach Pritchett specifically pointed out the serving from Sophie Parsons, who led the charge on some strong runs will some well placed balls.
"Sophie Parsons does an excellent job serving where I tell her to serve," said Pritchett. "I looked at her at one point and told her she makes me smile because she was serving the exact places I was telling her to serve and executed very well. We just executed much better in the first game than the second game, no matter the lineup change."
Coach Pritchett wants her players to remember that first set going forward, so that they remember just how good they can be when they're locked in.
"I hope that they remember the first game and see how good they can be and remember what they do when they lose their focus against a team we should be able to compete better against," said the Rolla head coach. "Hopefully they can come away now and we have Kickapoo Thursday, we have to be on our A game. We have to be on game one for two games."
As coach Pritchett said, the Lady Bulldogs will open Ozark Conference play on Thursday, Aug. 31 with a matchup against Kickapoo. St. James will stay on the road on Thursday, as they'll make the trip down to Bourbon.