BY JAMES COLLIER
FOR THE DAILY INDEPENDENT
FLATWOODS Russell coach Tiffany Perry looked at her bench in Set 3 of the 63rd District volleyball championship game with Raceland on Wednesday night and said they were stressing her out.
The feeling quickly subsided thanks to a bit of swinging and dancing as the Lady Red Devils unseated the four-time defending district champs with a 3-1 (24-26, 25-13, 25-17, 25-18) win over the Lady Rams.
Russell had three hitters finish with double-digit kills including senior Hannah Saunders’ game-high 11, to lead the Lady Devils to their first district title since 2011 in front of the home crowd inside the Marv. Entering the tournament, Russell had fallen in 10 of 11 matches, but the difference proved to be the personnel available.
“Having all our seniors on the court and just having the lineup we expected to use from the beginning, it’s been really nice the last two games,” Perry said. “The leadership on the floor was much better the last two nights. I give all the credit to the girls for stepping up and being leaders.”
Perry credited her backline for starting the offensive attack for the Lady Devils, led by Mackenzie Cole and Kayla Preston.
Once the dust settled, Russell served to 64 of its 99 total match points, 10 that went for aces and recorded only one bad set the entire match.
“It’s hard to win games when you don’t have offense going,” Perry said. “Sometimes girls are just afraid to play at the net. We just had to get them out of that and get them to attack. I think a lot of times they have been afraid to make mistakes.
Tonight was just being confident and having the right attitude.” Kate Ruggles and Grace Satterwhite recorded 10 kills each and Emily Robinson tallied seven for the Lady Devils (18-14).
Raceland (18-16) took control in Set 1 behind a 13-3 run for an 18-13 advantage.
But a 5-1 Russell push made it 23-22, prompting a Rams timeout.
Senior Michelle Vanderhoof seized the opportunity out of the break with two kills.
The Lady Rams, however, could not maintain their composure. Russell opened the second set on a 7-1 frenzy led by Saunders and Raceland never seemed to find an answer to slow down its district rival.
“We just beat ourselves tonight, honestly,” Rams coach Sarah Linn said. “I tell the girls all the time it’s mental. They have to come prepared and have to come ready to play. The inconsistency just has to stop.”
Russell’s trio of Saunders, Ruggles and Satterwhite crashed the net with the latter sending a shot down with such force, Linn had to take a step back from the sideline.
“We have great hitters and our seniors are amazing hitters,” Satterwhite said. “Our senior setter Mackenzie Cole can set anything and when you get great passes from the back row, it’s up to the hitters and we pulled it off tonight. This was one of our best nights.”
But the night started out with a Saunders to Saunders connection, which set the tone the rest of the way.
“At the beginning of the game, my sister (Rachel) set me up perfect,” the elder Saunders said.
“Everything just went smoothly after that.”
Rachel Saunders recorded a game-high 25 sets, with no errors on the night.
Although Russell spent much of its night attacking the Raceland defense, it made certain to stay loose in a unique way.
After securing a 2-1 edge in the match, Satterwhite began dancing to the music blasting through the speakers while awaiting Raceland to take the court. But it was all business for the frosh as she hammered home the final point to secure the title for the Lady Devils. “I just tell myself to calm down and have fun,” Satterwhite laughed.