MOOREVILLE — As the volleyball slipped through her outstretched arms and landed well out of bounds, Libby McMurphey landed awkwardly on the court — and smiled.
“It was really funny, actually,” McMurphey said. “I thought I was going to be able to jump high enough to get it, and I guess I couldn’t. I landed on my toe. It did not feel good.”
The Caledonia senior couldn’t corral the point for her team during Tuesday’s road match against Mooreville, but as well as she and her teammates were playing, it was already on to the next one.
“She doesn’t let a lot bother her,” Caledonia coach Samantha Brooks said of McMurphey. “She makes a mistake, she just moves on, and that’s a good characteristic to have as a senior leader.”
McMurphey showed plenty of those traits and plenty of talent Tuesday as Caledonia (9-4, 4-0 district) stayed undefeated in district play with a sweep of Mooreville. Set scores were 25-17, 25-15 and 25-13 as the senior outside hitter led the way.
“She’s kind of our little offensive firecracker, if you will,” Brooks said. “She’s short in stature, but she can jump and attack. She’s got a really good swing.”
McMurphey said she’s been able to step up her play recently after honing her skills during the fall.
“It’s been building through the season,” she said. “I’ve had a few great games here recently.”
So has Caledonia, which has now swept matches on back-to-back days after beating New Albany in straight sets at home Monday.
Brooks and McMurphey both pointed to Caledonia’s initial matchup with New Albany on the road Sept. 3 as a turning point in the season. On the road, Caledonia came back to win the second set 26-24 and won the deciding fourth set by the same score for a 3-1 win.
“That was the best game we’ve played, by far,” McMurphey said. “It was so fun, and we all were really pumped by the end of it. It was just amazing.”
Caledonia showed similar excitement Tuesday, celebrating with each score against the Troopers. Several points drew particularly loud reactions, including McMurphey’s hard kill to stretch her team’s lead to 14-10 in the first set.
“It feels great,” she said. “My kills are sketchy sometimes, but those ones are good.”
Brooks said she can tell the improvement McMurphey has put in for her senior season.
“She’s really worked hard over the course of the last year to get it in — to put a little bit of a spin on top — and finish her swing,” Brooks said. “She’s been an effective force for us.”
McMurphey’s power helped Caledonia turn around a first set that got off to a bit of a rough start. The team faced deficits of 5-2 and 7-3, brought on by several service errors, before righting the ship and pulling away for a 25-17 set win. Caledonia’s poor serving performance wasn’t lost on Brooks, either, after what she estimated as six serves into the net or out of bounds in the first set alone.
“We had a little talk about consequences of missed serves, because that’s non-negotiable,” she said. “That’s a mental error. If everybody was jump-serving at full force, that would be different. That’s not the case. If we’re standing on our feet serving, it should be in.”
But Caledonia tightened up its serving and improved its play in the second and third sets despite being tired from last night’s match and a constantly changing rotation.
Brooks said she wants to get as many players as she can on the court with their future availability never certain because of the presence COVID-19, the flu, strep throat, a stomach bug — or a confluence of maladies.
“We’re really trying to work on playing everybody,” she said. “We never know who’s going to be out on that court.”
No matter who it is, Caledonia has found success of late. Brooks’ team has won three straight non-tournament matches and looks much improved from the squad that played in preseason scrimmages against Tupelo and Starkville, then struggled against the Yellow Jackets and rival New Hope.
“We have been able to put it together and really focus on what we need to do to be a winning team,” Brooks said.
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