Instead, it’s the Lady Trailblazers who are battling for the lead atop the Big 7 Conference volleyball standings two weeks into the 2016 season.
On Thursday evening at Bobby Snyder Gymnasium, Boone dropped Sullivan Central from the ranks of the unbeaten in a scrappy four-set affair 25-22, 19-25, 25-19, 25-18.
“It feels good to finally be a competitor,” said Boone’s Mackenzie Carrier. “People don’t just say, ‘Oh we’re playing Boone tonight. It’s an easy win.’ ”
Carrier is one of five Lady ’Blazer seniors who joined the program with coach Chelsea Spivey prior to the 2013 season. She’s seen the program come full circle.
“We’ve worked hard in the gym every day, sometimes twice a day,” added Carrier. “We’ve come a really long way, and it feels like our hard work is finally paying off.”
After seeing a two-set lead slip away in the season opener at Dobyns-Bennett, the Lady ’Blazers this week alone have rallied from two sets down to topple David Crockett on Tuesday and wrestled the momentum away from Central after the Lady Cougars had tied Thursday’s match at a set apiece.
“The D-B match was a hard loss,” admitted senior Makayla Ledford. “But this win tonight is amazing. We have worked so hard … so hard to get where we are right now, and we have finally learned how to finish.”
And the finish against the Cougars was spectacular. Trailing 12-8 in the final set, Boone rolled off a 15-3 run, flashing every aspect of the game — gritty defense, pinpoint passing, precise setting and an arsenal of finishers at the net.
Kaylee Rabun, Sara Humphrey, Kaitlyn Harville and Carrier all recorded kills during the span, all dished out by Ledford, who also had back-to-back winners of her own.
Along the way, Harville and Lindsey Laughrun had a double block, and Whitney Sams and Victoria Barrett had several gutsy digs.
“This week and that section of the fourth set in particular was some of the best volleyball we’ve played since I’ve been here,” said an emotional Spivey, a former all-state player at Gate City and all-conference performer at Milligan College.
“Volleyball is emotional; emotion plays a lot in the game. When we are down, we play down. When we are excited, we play so much better.”
Boone could have been down after Central squared the match at a set apiece. Instead, the Lady ’Blazers scored the first six points of the pivotal third frame. It was the Lady Cougars with the quick 7-2 start in the fourth, but again Boone had the answer.
“It’s just heart. These girls have a lot of heart for the game,” noted Spivey. “And our defense. We have a really good defense.”
Central coach Logan Kemp credited that Boone defense with frustrating his deep line of front row players.
“Boone’s defense will frustrate teams, and I think we let that get to us,” said Kemp. “We weren’t getting the kills we were used to.”
Senior middle Kayley Holtzclaw recorded six of her match-high 18 kills in the second set win for Central (5-1, 3-1). The King University commitment also recorded three blocks. Madison Dye notched nine kills for the Lady Cougars with Alyssa Giles adding five. Sydney Hurd dished out all 29 of Central’s assists. Jessica Harrington led the defense with 10 digs with Camille Lucas adding nine and Nakayla Fink contributing eight.
Boone (8-2, 2-1) had three players with double figures in kills and nearly a fourth. Harville led with 13, Rabun had 11, Carrier 10 and Ledford nine. Collectively, it’s not so much about power, but placement and diversity.
“We knew Boone liked the short game, and we were ready for it,” added Central’s Kemp. “We just didn’t execute.”
Rabun finished with a triple double, added 12 digs and 19 assists. Ledford dished out 22 assists and also had nine digs, finishing a kill and a dig shy of a second Boone triple double.
Sams led the Boone defense with 22 digs. Barrett added a dozen and Jada Bledsoe nine.