After their first three matches on the volleyball court, the Henry County Ladycats entered this week with a 2-1 early-season mark. The Ladycats opened the season with a win over Gallatin County Aug. 12, lost to Anderson County Aug. 14 and defeated Carroll County Aug. 19.
After a five-day break, Henry was back in action Monday night against Shelby County and Tuesday night against Eminence. So far — despite some inconsistency — coach Jon Kasten has liked what he has seen from his young but experienced squad that won the district title for the first time last fall. The key to the team’s success this year will be passing, he said.
“I really feel like if we can pass the ball, we will win a lot of games,” Kasten explained. “I think we can hit with any team in our region, and if we can get our passes to our setters, then they will leave good sets for our hitters.”
Kasten’s theory proved correct during the team’s first three games with accurate passing against both Gallatin and Carroll, while the team struggled to get the ball to setters Kelley Everidge and Taylor Clark against Anderson.
In the first match of the season, Henry came away with 25-18 and 25-15 wins over Gallatin County, which pointed the team in the right direction. Karie Powell and Kelsey Mings passed the ball well, Rebecca Buckley and Brittany Crawford dominated at the net, Haley Anderson gave Henry a big lift from the backline with her serving, and the Ladycats were able to end the best-of-three series in just two games.
During the first game, Anderson broke open an otherwise close game with seven straight serves. Gallatin called a timeout after the 7-0 run, which iced Anderson when she came out of the huddle.
“With the exception of Anderson, serving was not very good for us,” Kasten said of his players who hit a lot of their serves out. “I wasn’t really anticipating that — I don’t know if we were trying to hit the ball too hard or what? I thought Anderson served smart though. She got in a rhythm and picked up her pace after a few serves.”
After the Gallatin win, Henry was back in action two days later in its first district matchup of the season. The Ladycats defeated Anderson County for the district title last year, but this time around they came up just short as Anderson came away with 25-23 and 26-24 wins in two close games.
Henry had trouble passing the ball and was not as aggressive as Anderson, but the Ladycats did see a bright spot in the middle with the superb play from both Buckley and Crawford. Henry lost both of its middle players from last year’s record-breaking team to graduation, but the new middle players have filled that void left behind better than expected.
“Once again, our middles played very well,” Kasten said. “They had a few blocks and were very active at the net, which is what we like to see. That was a big question mark heading into this year, and it’s a very good sign so far.”
From the get go, Henry struggled against Anderson, who outscored the Ladycats by a combined four points in the two games. Despite Henry’s lack of passing skills and aggressive play, the match was still close all the way through.
“We just didn’t get off the bus,” Kasten said. “We wanted to reach for things passing wise, we didn’t want to move to the ball and we didn’t get too many good sets to hit. We knew going in that we had a target on our backs from winning districts last year, so our district teams will bring their best games against us. I just didn’t think we handled the pressure very well — we played not to lose instead of playing to win.”
After the 1-1 start, Henry got back on the winning side of things with 25-23 and 25-13 victories over Carroll County last Tuesday night. At practice the night before, Crawford turned her ankle, which forced the Ladycats to juggle the rotation heading into the Carroll showdown. Heidi Smith took Jessica Booher’s place at strong-side hitting, while Booher stepped into the spot Crawford left open up front in the middle.
“I think at full strength, we would have beaten Carroll very easily,” Kasten said. “I thought our girls adjusted very well though. When you’re used to playing a certain way, that can be very tough to do.”
Crawford’s injury came early during last Monday’s practice when she rolled her ankle going up for a hit. She had to miss all of last week but was expected back for Monday’s game, Kasten said.
“It will definitely be nice to have her back,” Kasten said of the junior, a first-year player who shares the middle with Buckley. “She’s a naturally gifted athlete that has long arms and can jump. She comes on the court and gives very good energy with her aggressive, free-spirited, wild play. She’s so hyper that it gives us a boost.”
Henry took its 2-1 record against Shelby Monday and hosted cross-county rivals Eminence Tuesday. The Ladycats next game will be Thursday at home against Trimble County. Game time is set for 6:30 p.m.
E-mail us about this story at firstname.lastname@example.org.