A four-set loss at home might not be cause for celebration, but for the Mississippi University for Women’s volleyball team, it is definitely cause for satisfaction.
Eleven freshmen and eight sophomores on a roster of 21 are coached by someone who has been on the job for three weeks, so some context is required when analyzing the Owls’
27-25, 24-26, 25-18, 25-17 loss to Huntingdon College, an NCAA Division III school, on Tuesday night at Pohl Gymnasium in Columbus.
Coach Halee Hensley said The W’s latest loss shows how far they have come since the start of practice.
“This is probably one of the best games that we’ve played, Hensley said. “They are jelling great. They’re doing upper-level stuff as freshmen and sophomores that typical freshmen and sophomores don’t do. I’m super-excited about that; I’m just ready for a W.”
There’s no substitute for a win, but the Owls took their first step in that direction against the Hawks. The 26-24 second set was their first winning set of the year after three-set defeats to Maryville, Berry, Sewanee and Bethel.
And it came in dramatic fashion. The Owls trailed 20-16 when a Huntingdon service error put the ball in the hands of Maggie Griggs. A kill by freshman Llayne Skinner, an ace from Griggs, a kill by Hannah Duran and a block by Micaela Hudgins put The W ahead.
But the Lions weren’t done, and the teams traded points until a Jordan Hollis kill gave Huntingdon set point at 24-23.
Then the Owls turned in play after spectacular play at the net to even the match. Sarah White’s kill tied the score, a block by Jasmine Kelly led to an attack error by the Lions, and Kelly’s block of another Lions attack led to a bad set that wrapped up a 26-24 in.
Hensley singled out Kelly for her performance in the match. The freshman middle blocker from Grace Christian School’s stat line read 1 kill, 2 aces, 3 solo blocks, a dig and 6 points.
Griggs led the team in kills with 10, while Duran finished with 12 assists. Skinner totaled 14 digs, and Griggs led with 13 points.
The Owls had one more run in them. After falling behind 7-2 to open the third set, they scored the next seven points, highlighted by two aces from White and a Hudgins kill. But the Owls couldn’t maintain the momentum, and they were outscored 18-10 the rest of the set.
The fourth set was more of the same. The Owls had slim early leads but Huntingdon senior Jordan Hollis took over down the stretch, registering kills to win the final three points and close the match.
But the progress was easy to see for Hensley.
“My first day, my GA took over practice and I just watched,” she said. “We had a Saturday scrimmage where we scrimmaged for two hours. We put different people in different positions and then that Monday we got to work.”
And that started with the basics.
“Serve-receive was a struggle when I first got here, but it could have been because of summer rust,” Hensley said. “Once we got the rust off, our serve-receive has been pretty spot-on. Right now we’re struggling with connections, with setters and hitters in the middle, other than that we are jelling really well. When we’re on, we’re really on.”
The Owls had a solid chance to win the opening set as well. Neither team was able to establish any momentum, but the Hawks finally pulled out to a 23-18 lead. But Duran had two kills and Griggs had one during a five-point run that pulled the hosts within two points, and it took a kill by Hollins and a ball into the net for the Hawks to take a 1-0 lead.
“They have a lot of heart, and I’m very grateful for that,” Hensley said. “They amaze me every day. They want to do better as individuals on and off the court.
“By the end of the season we’re going to be completely different from how you saw us tonight.”