STARKVILLE — After playing home matches at the Starkville Sportsplex last season, the Starkville High School volleyball team returned to its home court with a vengeance Tuesday night.
The Lady Jackets opened the home portion of their schedule with a 25-14, 25-9, 25-19, straight-sets win over Heritage Academy in prep volleyball action at the Beehive.
Starkville capitalized on a day of high anticipation of playing before its home crowd. The Lady Jackets were also playing in support of head coach Lauren Love, who has the missed the squad’s first five matches to spend time with a newborn baby girl.
Assistant coach Xavier Tillman, coaching in Love’s absence, was pleased to see her squad’s strong performance after a struggle in the season-opening Set It Off Challenge in Jackson.
“We have a great support staff here,” Tillman said. “(Athletic director) Dr. (Stan) Miller is wonderful in getting whatever I need. Yeah I feel like I’m feeling big shoes but I feel like I’ve got great support behind me.”
On this night, Tillman got a lot of supporter from Khris Carr, who led the way with seven digs and four kills. Carr said she and her teammates were motivated by playing in front of the home folks.
“It’s really big…I think this is our place, this is our home,” Carr said. “I was impressed by how many people came to our first game. I think the fans were really great at supporting us and they did a good job of helping us get better.”
Tillman also acknowledged the strong performances of Courtney Wilson and Vicky Vo. Playing in her first varsity match, Wilson had a team-high 16 digs formed a strong 1-2 tandem with April Reese, who added six kills and five digs.
Tillman said better communication was the key for her 2-3 squad, as it shook off a slow start in the first set and were rarely threatened the rest of the way.
“We learned that communication is the key,” Tillman said. “We can stay in the game as long as we don’t panic. They learned this weekend about keeping their head and staying focused.”
Despite a few mishits early, a strong service game allowed the Lady Jackets to seize control of the match midway through the first set.
“We were down by a couple of points but with a lot of encouragement from our teammates on the bench and with the faith our coaches have in us we improved it,” Karr said. “We looked at what was open and just played smarter.”
For Heritage Academy, a lot could be learned in the season opener of its second season of volleyball competition. The Lady Patriots made strides a year ago but did not have enough depth to extend Tuesday’s match.
“We’re still building,” Heritage coach Liz Byrne said. “For a lot of these girls, this is their second year of playing volleyball. There’s still some work to be done but they’re exponentially better than last year.”
The Lady Patriots have been working since March to build on a strong first season, which included a victory over Columbus High School. The focus of the off-season has been refining skills and making sure they carry over to the actual matches.
“We’ve definitely taken it a level up from last year,” Heritage coach Liz Fields said.
Heritage Academy will open its home schedule Saturday with a match against Amory at the Stark Recreation Center on the Mississippi University of Women campus. Starkville is back on the road Tuesday at Aberdeen.