Fast volleyball start has Spartans thinking big again
PEARISBURG — The 2011 high school volleyball season was a historic one at Giles. Although the campaign didn’t end as the Spartans would have preferred, they learned two compelling points from it.
The first: Take no opponent for granted. Second: It’s best to have Alex Hawks in the lineup.
A lot has happened since Giles ended last season. Hawks is fully recovered from the injured left shoulder that took her off the floor as Giles was being upset by previously unheralded Eastern Montgomery in the semifinals of the district tournament, ending Spartan dreams of winning their first such affair.
This season, Giles is rolling again. The red hot Spartans won their first 11, including their district opener at Floyd County on Tuesday. The Spartans lost a five-set thriller to Glenvar on Thursday night. Hawks, a junior and the only three-year varsity player on the team, has been key to the surge.
“Her demeanor on the court helps the other girls, and they feed off that,” Giles coach Whitney Matlock said. “They use that as a tool that helps them keep their focus.”
The focus now is to start strong and keep at it. To that end, Giles has had only two matches go more than three games so far. The Spartans have managed to keep the proper frame of mind in pursuit of that end.
Records are incomplete, but most probably, this is the first time Giles had won its first 11 — hence the everyday urgency.
“We want to make a statement,” Matlock said. “We want to start dominating from the start. We don’t want to be digging out of a hole. We want to start on top, stay on top, and finish it.”
Giles, which ended last season with a four-game loss to Grayson County in a Division 2 Region C opener, went 15-6 and 6-4 in the Three Rivers District last year with a senior-dominated team. Now, top-to-bottom, the district doesn’t appear to be as strong as it was a year ago. It still figures to be one of the better districts in Group A, though.
“And this is volleyball; on a given night, anybody can beat anybody,” said Matlock, Spartans alumna and fourth-year head coach.
Radford and EastMont are next, leading up to what could be a highly anticipated visit from Auburn on Oct. 7. The Eagles, Division 1 this year, were a D-2 final-four team a year ago and are off to a 10-0, 2-0 start and could be even better.
Giles has a younger team this year. As of Wednesday, outside hitter Marinna Dowdy (57 kills) and setter Maggie Boggess (147 assists) are the only seniors in the regular rotation. Middle Emily Harless (21 aces, 58 kills) and Hawks (85 kills, 96 digs), the other outside, are the junior first stringers. Tori Belcher has earned the start at libero by being a quick study. She’s never played the position before. Another sophomore is Courtney Estep (55 kills, 24 blocks). Alex Pennington (135 assists) is the second of two first-team setters.
The catalysts are Hawks and Dowdy up front.
“I feel like she helps me be a better player,” Dowdy said of her teammate. “We’re competing with each other for stats, which helps the team. We support and encourage each other, too.”
Hawks goes along with that, adding, “She’s a great leader for our team.”
According to Hawks, the whole team is of the same mind about goals (wins and trophies) and approach (uncompromising). When she went down with the bad shoulder after an on-court collision in the tournament last year, she said she had complete faith her teammates would pull through anyway. It didn’t work out that way, but she’s never changed her opinion.
“It wasn’t our night.”
Which reminded her.
“On any given …”
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