Coming off three straight losses, Thursday’s match with Lincoln County was more than just a game for the North Laurel volleyball team. It may have been the season.
“I basically told them this match is going to define our season. If we didn’t win tonight, we might not win another match,” North Laurel coach Bill Abner said. “We might have found ourselves a little bit in the second set.”
In the second set, Abner called a time out with North Laurel trailing, 7-3. Abner said he read his team the “riot act” during the time out. They had already lost the first set, 25-22, and were struggling in the second.
“If we had lost this match, our season may have been over,” Abner said. “This was a needed win for us against a pretty good team.”
North Laurel (12-5) rallied to take the second set, 25-22, and coasted in the third set, 25-17.
After taking the weekend off for Labor Day, the Lady Jaguars have done as much running in two days as they had the first half of the season.
“The girls committed to me that we were going to get in better shape. I looked back over the season and we were losing those three set matches and we were sort of wilting in the third set,” Abner said.
It may have paid off already with the Lady Jaguars breaking out to a 10-3 lead in the deciding set. They were stronger at the net and on the serve in the third set.
“If we get beat in a three set match the rest of the year, that’s fine. It’s not going to be because we don’t have our legs under us,” Abner said.
It wasn’t the legs, but possibly the head that had North Laurel playing from behind early. North Laurel led by as much as 14-6 in the first set, mostly from play around the net by Courtney Parsons, Kelsie Smith and Samantha Proffitt. A couple of Lincoln County blocks started to sway the momentum. Then the North Laurel serves started to falter. Lincoln County picked up six points off serves in the first set. By the time Lincoln County tied the score 19-19, you could see a change in the North Laurel body language. Much of the communication on shots stopped as well.
“This bunch, we don’t need a head coach. We need a team psychologist,” Abner said.
Lincoln County’s first lead came at 21-20. The match point came fittingly on a bad North Laurel serve.
North Laurel trailed in the second set until tying the score 11-11. Lincoln County regained the lead on a long volley. It was the type of point Abner had stressed to his team they had to win.
“We had talked about in our time outs that they are playing a defensive style and there are going to be long volleys,” Abner said. He compared it to a tennis player with a good baseline game.
“You have to stay in the point. Don’t get greedy,” Abner said.
It was the same style used by Jackson County, the loss that started the three-game skid.
“That’s what happened to us in Jackson County. We got frustrated and got greedy trying to end points quick,” Abner said.
A couple of bad returns by Lincoln County gave North Laurel a lead. Suddenly it all came together. North Laurel scored seven straight points with everyone taking part. Kenna Wyatt recorded two kills in the rally. Courtney Parsons made a diving save and also served an ace. Lincoln County got as close as 19-17, but North Laurel seemed to have some swagger still. Lincoln County again got within two points at 23-21 before the Lady Jaguars closed out the set.
North Laurel breezed to a 20-8 lead in the third set and coasted to the win.
“This could still be a really good team because we are so athletic,” Abner said.. “If we can get our mental sharpness, we can be dangerous.”
They will need to be sharp this weekend in a strong Rockcastle County Rocket Invitational Tournament. Also coming up next week are road games against Clay County, Whitley County, and Bell County.
Mitch Howard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.