Coach Judy Pruett’s Lady Mustangs held the upper hand most of the way in claiming the 25-15, 23-25, 25-14, 25-20 conquest of coach Trish Flowers’ Lady Raiders.
Though there were many mistakes along the way, as would be expected in a match at this point in the season, both teams’ coaches took some positives from the match. Besides early season rustiness, both squads are in the process of replacing some outstanding performers from a year ago, accounting for much of the lax play.
“It’s always a big win when you defeat Cleveland,” said coach Pruett after the match. “We’re improving our hitting, which should be one of our strengths later in the year.”
The Walker Valley coach expects both teams to be among the front-runners in District 5-AAA play this season, along with powerful Soddy-Daisy, Ooltewah and Bradley Central. “It will come down to who is playing best at district (tournament) time,” she said.
Coach Flowers saw some positive signs in the loss, but could not fully understand her team’s confusion on the court. The Lady Raiders are implementing a new offense and were guilty of a number of mix-ups rotating on and off the floor.
“There’s no excuse for the way we got out of rotation,” she said after the match. “Working on this new offense (apparently) created a little confusion. We’re changing the offense because we feel that’s the ticket to where we want to go.
“We’ll learn from this,” Flowers continued. “We have a lot of depth and athleticism, and the scores tonight are not reflective of what our team will become.”
Coach Pruett also feels her team will get much better through the season with a very consistent unit. The varsity was very balanced from top to bottom in the varsity win.
There were individual standouts on both teams. The Lady Mustangs got big performances by a bevy of players at the net, taking early leads and staying in front through almost every game.
Senior Caitlin Geren had nine kills, seven digs, an ace, a block and 14 assists for the winners. She also had plenty of help. Bristol Snider added 11 assists, six kills, two aces, three digs, two blocks and 11 receptions.
Jessica Stepp added five kills, three digs, a block and 10 receptions. Katie Wilds had four kills, a block and two aces. Leslie Still led her team in kills with 10, adding two aces, three digs, a block and 10 receptions. Eryn Walker had eight digs and four receptions, Autumn Sizemore contributed three kills and three receptions and Taylor Pruett had 12 receptions and nine digs.
“Tonight was a total team effort,” said Pruett of the big victory.
Cleveland also had some exceptional performances for coach Flowers. The Lady Raiders rallied to win the second game as the threesome of Sydnie Anderson, Kayla Gash and Jessica Davenport had a flurry of points at the net late. Cleveland caught the frontrunning Lady Mustangs at 20-20 and pushed out to a 24-20 advantage.
Walker Valley then staged a rally of its own to get within a point, 24-23, but the Lady Raiders ended the game on a kill by Zanna Thompson.
Qetuwrah Abdullah-Muhammad, a sophomore and reigning state track champion, joined teammate Marissa Langford in displaying some of the Cleveland team’s leaping ability and athleticism throughout the match.
The season doesn’t get any easier for the two 5-AAA contenders. Walker Valley will take its 1-0 record to Rhea County on Thursday, while Cleveland’s Lady Raiders will be at home against a big, talented Bradley Central squad.
Varsity: Walker Valley wins, 25-15, 23-25, 25-14, 25-20.
Junior Varsity: Walker Valley wins, 25-23 and 25-11. Katherine Plate, Lindsey Wingo and Rachel Lawhorn played well for the Lady Mustangs.
Freshmen: Cleveland wins 25-23, 13-25, 15-13, behind the play of libero Kayla Lee.