SPRING HILL – The prep volleyball season is less than a week old, and Hernando and Springstead aren’t even in the same classification, let alone the same district.
But Thursday night’s meeting between the county rivals on Springstead’s shiny new gym floor didn’t lack in entertainment value. What appeared at first to be an easy victory for the visiting Lady Leopards turned out to be a stirring triumph for the host Lady Eagles, who rallied from an 0-2 deficit to win in five games, 28-30, 17-25, 25-17, 25-11, 15-7.
“We just pulled it together, talked to each other, brought each other up and put some different players on the court,” first-year Springstead head coach Kyra Leonard said. “Our girls are committed to this game and they want to win, and they pull out everything they can.
“It started out a little rough. I had one girl with the flu tonight, so that made things a little tough. It’s a big win for our girls. They wanted it, they wanted it bad and they committed to taking those three wins tonight.”
Out of the gate, the Lady Eagles (2-0) were in control, scoring the first six points of the opening game with Elise Crowell at serve.
Slowly, though, Hernando (0-2) chipped away, though trailed 23-20 when Jen Aten served two points for Springstead. The Lady Leopards knotted it at 24 on two points with Hailey Crawford toeing the back line, and the two teams proceeded to go back and forth until Nakayla Roberts served two points, the last on a kill by Crawford.
In the second game, Hernando tallied six straight points with Hayden Kimbrough serving to go up 12-6 and never looked back. Roberts was again at serve at the end, notching an ace before Madison Janssens’ kill finished it.
“We came together as a team. We were talking and just the energy was loud because of how close it was,” said Hernando head coach Malea Kalina, also in her first year. “We slowed down (after the second game), lost communication. But that’s just things we have to work on.”
The Lady Eagles went up 10-7 on three service points by Aten in the third game, and built a 20-12 edge on back-to-back aces by Sara Futsek, who was inserted into the lineup at the start of that set.
Springstead dominated the fourth, starting up ahead 5-0 as Crowell served. The senior setter also doled out eight assists, mostly to Olivia DeLoach, who had six of her 10 kills in that game.
“I think us being down really fired us up,” DeLoach said. “I was thinking about all I was doing bad, and I kind of remembered that you don’t have to think about that. You have to think about the good things in life. After one comes another and it just keeps going.”
That momentum held in the decisive fifth game, the Lady Eagles taking a 9-3 lead on an ace by Lexie Thompson and going up 14-6 with Aten serving three more points. Crowell set up DeLoach for one last kill to end the match.
Crowell finished with 19 assists and Aten added eight kills. Crawford paced Hernando with 12 kills and Janssens had 10, while Hailey Hatten totaled 29 assists.
“It was a tough one. I thought we were going to pull it out together. That was probably one of our best games that we’ve ever played, honestly,” Kalina said. “We’ve got to work on a couple things, and all of our team is all freshmen, sophomores and we’re just building more and more.”
Follow Chris Bernhardt Jr. on Twitter @cpbernhardtjr.