BY MATTHEW SPARKS
THE DAILY INDEPENDENT
RUSSELL All of Russell’s heavy hitters were back to begin postseason play.
The Lady Devils played their first match at full strength all season, according to coach Tiffany Perry. The reunion paid dividends for a previously reeling Russell team on Monday night, sending it back to the 63rd District title game with a 3-1 (2511- 25-10, 20-25, 25-11) opening-round victory over Lewis County at Marvin Meredith Gym.
“We had good moments when we weren’t at full strength,” Perry said, “but it’s really about adapting the lineup to suit the team and figuring out what our strengths are when you have different people. It’s really been tough this year to figure that out. I thought we did a decent job of doing that tonight.”
The Lady Lions grabbed their first lead at 6-5 in the opening set. Officials stopped play and determined Lewis County made an illegal substitution and changed the score to 6-2 in Russell’s favor. The Lady Devils followed with a 13-5 run to gain control and take a 1-0 lead.
Getting off to a good start was of the utmost importance for Russell. “We have preached all year that it’s mental,” Perry said. “This is a mental game. … When you believe you can do something, you almost always end up doing it. They came out believing in themselves tonight. They really wanted to win. It’s been a really rough last half of the season.”
There is no sibling rivalry on the Russell front line. Hannah Saunders led the Lady Devils with 10 kills as her sister Hannah kept dishing her assists. Hannah tallied 17 of them and MacKenzie Cole added 15.
“It’s really interesting,” Perry said of the Saunders sisters. “I hadn’t planned on putting both up at the net together. On the court, they have a different chemistry than they do off the court. They want to win and they want to win together. Rachel wants to win because her sister is a senior.”
Grace Satterwhite and Kate Ruggles each collected nine kills.
Russell (17-14) won the second set, but Lewis County didn’t go down without a fight. The Lady Lions took a closely contested third set before the Lady Devils closed it out in four.
“With this team, we needed blocks,” Lewis County coach Sarah Callihan said. “We aren’t a big team. We mostly have girls that are smaller and faster. We were working on covering ... because we have a big problem with not covering the ball even when our blockers do get a tip.
“Tonight, we did not play the way we are capable of playing,” she added. “We did in the third set. But when we get down, it’s hard for our team to get back in it.”
Madison Prater and Madelyn Spencer made the All-District team for Lewis County (9-16).
Raceland 3 Greenup Co. 0
The glare from sunlight protruding out of a corner window delayed the start of the opening match between the Lady Musketeers and the Lady Rams.
Once play got under way, Michelle Vanderhoof was one of several bright spots for the four-time defending district champs. Raceland completed the three-set (25-15, 25-20, 2519) sweep.
Vanderhoof led the team with seven kills. She is the only player on the Lady Rams’ roster with postseason experience. Coach Sarah Linn said the senior striker will have to be a leader moving forward.
“We have to lean on her as a senior,” Linn said. “She is the only one with varsity experience (from last year). She has to carry the team.”
Raceland grabbed an early 5-4 lead and never gave it back to take the first set.
“Last week was a little rough for us,” Linn said. “We came back and we bounced back. We did what we needed to do.”
Greenup County (4-19) fought back in the second set. The game featured nine ties and was knotted at 19-19 before the Lady Rams scored six of the next seven. Adriana Flocker reeled off three straight aces to end it.
The Lady Musketeers had difficulty putting consecutive points together.
“That’s been our problem all year, we are just not consistent,” Greenup County coach Darrell Adkins said. “At times, we play really well. We have some girls that can make plays. It’s kind of like we are snakebit and we are the snake. We get on a roll and then we do something to take ourselves out of it.”
Down 24-13 in the final moments, Greenup County rattled off six straight points before Raceland finally closed out the match.
Sarah Purcell had 11 kills for the Lady Musketeers. She took All-District team honors with teammate Alyssa Mays.
The Lady Rams face Russell in Wednesday night’s district championship game at 6 p.m. Linn said it’s important for this team to carry on the program’s winning tradition.
“That is exactly what we talked about in the locker room,” Linn said. “We have to get stuff done. We have a lot to prove with a young team.”