The Rolla volleyball team opened Districts with a matchup against Hillcrest on Monday, Oct. 16. The Lady Bulldogs struggled with some serving and hitting mistakes, but managed to push through for a 26-24, 25-20 win in straight sets to advance to the second round.
Rolla got off to a solid start against Hillcrest, taking the first three points of the first set. After that, it was a dogfight. Hillcrest took the next three points to tie the match and most of the remainder of the set saw the teams trading points back and forth. No one was able to control the match early on. Rolla's biggest problem with getting the ball rolling was service errors, which ended up being an issue throughout the night. Hillcrest was able to take control of the match midway through, eventually building their lead out to 17-9 thanks to some big hits and well timed blocks. Rolla was able to end the run and followed it with an ace by Leah Rasco. Hillcrest was able to get possession back, but Shelby Ply put a quick end to that with a kill, bringing the score to 18-14. Rolla got within two points to cause Hillcrest to call a timeout and the Lady Hornets won a great back and forth rally fresh off the timeout to extend their lead to 19-16.
The Lady Bulldogs then continued to claw their way back with some great blocking, digging and hitting, eventually tying the game thanks to back to back hits from Ami Ikuenobe. Rolla then got a block to take the lead and won the match a point later with a 26-24 win.
The second set saw Rolla let Hillcrest stay in the game because of a lot of similar issues. Rolla built an early 4-1 lead before three straight service errors. The match was tied at seven early, the Lady Bulldogs pushed through some of those mistakes to build a steady lead. Rolla led by at least three points for the remainder of the match on their way to a 25-20 victory.
The biggest issue of the night was unforced errors for Rolla. The Lady Bulldogs had seven service errors on the night and 10 hitting errors. Head coach Stephanie Pritchett thinks a lot of those mistakes came from players being in their own heads.
"I think two things happened. I think there were more nerves there than needed to be in some of our younger players and we've already played them and beat them, and we didn't play very well when we beat them the last time and I think that played into it," said coach Pritchett. "I think we kinda took them from granted a little bit and didn't play well in that first set. Finally I was like, 'listen to this gym, they're making noise and it has nothing to do with you. So if you want this gym to be loud for you, you better turn around and start playing and just be aggressive.' They were not being aggressive, they were too worried about making mistakes instead of just going out and playing."
Rolla did have some great highlights, though, despite some erratic play. The Lady Bulldogs did an excellent job for most of the night stepping up and helping out their blockers, as well as coming up with some big digs on long rallies that helped keep them in points. Ply had another stellar game, as she racked up 10 kills on just 16 attempts. She was also in on four blocks. Ikuenobe received 11 serves and only had one return error on the night. She also added five digs, four kills and a pair of digs. Rasco had a great night digging balls with eight digs on the night, was a perfect 4-4 receiving serves and had one of two Rolla aces on the night. Megan Brown had another strong hitting night with seven kills and had a block assist. Sophie Parsons led the team in assists with 12 and was the only Lady Bulldog to serve the ball without a service error. She had Rolla's other ace, as well. Loran Pritchett added nine assists, five digs, and a kill.
While Rolla struggled at times throughout the night, coach Pritchett could tell when her team was starting to turn things around when they started to communicate better.
"Well what I felt like happened was that they started talking to each other better about what was going on," said the Rolla head coach. "I would start to say something and I would see one of the girls say, 'hey do this, hey do that" and it was what I was about to tell them. So they're self-correcting a little bit and helping each other out, so that was a big part of our game."