BY MATTHEW SPARKS
THE DAILY INDEPENDENT
VANCEBURG Russell had one more comeback left in it.
After trailing two sets to none, the Lady Devils rallied to tie their 16th Region tournament semifinal match with Ashland at 2-2.
The Volleycats quickly jumped out to 5-1 advantage in the final set and held the lead until Russell closed the gap to even the score. Hannah Saunders followed with a kill and Kayla Preston recorded an ace, sending the Lady Devils to the title match with a 3-2 (13-25, 23-25, 25-17, 25-21, 16-14) win at Lewis County Middle School on Wednesday night.
Russell coach Tiffany Perry said the key to the turnaround was forgetting the past.
“I’m telling them to get the mistakes out of their mind,” Perry said of the huddle conversation.
“Play every point. … It’s all about getting them back into the positive mentality and starting a clean slate. When you are coming from behind, you don’t see the positives. To get them there is the biggest challenge. I think the girls did that themselves tonight.”
“I give all the credit to the girls,” she added.
“They fought. Tonight, we proved that we had the fight.”
After her season was plagued with health issues, Emily Robinson did not want her high school career to end just yet.
“Mama Rob”, as she is affectionally called by her teammates, wanted to be a calming force for her team.
“I’m so proud of my team, getting it together after those first two sets,” Robinson said. “We all had a rocky start, myself included. We all did the things that we needed to do, and Coach encouraged us with what we needed to do.
“I was trying to get everybody up. Every time we went into the huddle, we would do something goofy, trying to get everybody laughing. It worked.”
The seniors are playing with extra motivation after not advancing to the region tournament last year. The Lady Devils will play in their second region title match since 2012, the last time they wore the crown.
“The seniors have played together since they were young,” Perry said. “We didn’t get here last year. We expected to because we had some heavy hitters with Sara Hieneman and Anna Barfield. We struggled to replace them. The seniors have stepped up.
They work well together and are really great friends. There is no disconnect with the younger players.”
Ashland was the aggressor to start the match, jumping out to a 15-5 advantage in the opening game. The Volleycats took the set and closed out a tightly contested second game with the final two points.
After a lengthy discussion between sets, Russell eventually took control of Set 3 with a 6-0 run midway through the frame.
Grace Satterwhite and Saunders, two of the Lady Devils’ biggest strikers, put the ball down to close out the fourth set.
The duo combined for four kills in the final moments of the game to extend the match.
Satterwhite unofficially led her team with eight kills.
“The great thing about Grace, a freshman, is she stays positive,” Perry said. “She focuses on winning and pays attention to what she needs to do.
She is just volleyballsmart. She is not one to get down. When you are down 5-1 (in the fifth set), you have to rely on your leaders on the court. She is one of them. I think all of them realized what they had to do tonight.”
Saunders recorded seven kills. Kate Ruggles had five. Senior MacKenzie Cole dished out 14 assists.
Russell combined for seven aces.
“We had some serving issues tonight,” said Ashland coach Amanda Moore. “That hurt us because, if we are not serving, we are not rallying through to get multiple points consecutively. It becomes a game of backand- forth. We haven’t had a problem with that lately. It’s just the regional tournament. Emotions were running high.”
Russell (20-14) never led in the fifth set until a Saunders spike put her team ahead, 15-14. Preston placed the next serve just out of the reach of an Ashland player on the next point to complete the comeback.
The Lady Devils will meet Rowan County in the region championship tonight at 6.
The Volleycats were led by Haley Preston with six kills. Raegan Stevens and Sarah Rymer each had four. Sydney Runyon recorded 15 assists.
Despite the setback, Moore was pleased her team’s effort and called the season a successful one.
“We started rolling around mid-September,” Moore said. “I would call it a success for sure.”