BLAND, Va. —
The Alley was closed.
When Bland County was trying to pull the upset against the bigger school, Rachel Alley was often in the way, returning the ball across the net to lead her team to victory.
The 5-foot-11 Alley recorded 22 kills, and Mac Cordill added nine kills and 11 aces, leading the Blue Tornado to a 25-23, 21-25, 25-11, 25-17 non-district win over the Bears at a steamy Bland High School gymnasium on Tuesday night.
Richlands (4-1), which dethroned Carroll County at the top of the Southwest District last season, continues to make progress after losing seven seniors to graduation, including standout performer Jordyn Cole.
“We lost seven seniors last year so that is a big loss...” Richlands head coach Ronnie Sparks said. “So far they are doing a good job, they are getting better every match, I am pleased with their progress so far.”
While Bland County dropped to 0-4, the small school Bears have played Group AA clubs Tazewell and Richlands twice each.
Bland County head coach Kelly Shelton is hoping that experience will pay off in the Mountain Empire District, with the slate beginning on Thursday against Narrows, which lost standout performer Savanna Burton to Radford University.
“Playing bigger teams is always going to help you the rest of the season,” Shelton said. “We play Narrows which is a district game on Thursday so these games will definitely help with that.”
An entertaining match saw the clubs split the first two games, with the Blue Tornado jumping out to an early lead in the opening stanza and then surviving a furious comeback by the Bears. Alley stopped that rally with a bullet that slammed off the face of a Bland County player to end the first game.
“We have our number one hitter, Rachel Alley, back and a couple of other players, Keisha Lynch back from last year, we moved her over to be our libero, she played right side defense for us last year,” Sparks said. “Mac Cordill, Sarah Compton and Hannah Alley all came up from the JV and they are doing a pretty good job.
“We still have got a few things to iron out, a few things on defense and few things on offense here and there.”
Bland County went on the attack in the next game, jumping out to a 20-9 lead before the Blues whittled it down to 22-21. The Beavers then scored the final three points to knot the contest at one game apiece.
“The second game, especially, they did really good, they like to communicate with each other and get after it,” Shelton said. “The second game has always been our game, I think we have won every second game.”
From there it was all Richlands as the Blue Tornado took an 8-2 lead in the third game and rolled to victory, and then led 20-9 in the fourth, and then finished it off after the Bears pulled within 24-14.
“They have their strengths at times and sometimes they slack off, which they unfortunately did tonight,” Shelton said. “They get discouraged easily when it is that bad off. You win some and you lose some.”
Compton, the daughter of former Richlands, West Virginia and NFL offensive lineman Mike Compton, played well for the Blues, contributing 14 assists and five kills. Keisha Lynch was often on the floor, recording 15 digs, while Hannah Alley added 15 assists and a pair of aces.
Sparks is breaking in a pair of new setters in Compton and Hannah Alley, and has been pleased with the play of Lynch.
“We have definitely got to improve on our serving consistency, that has kind of been hurting us in every game we have played so far,” Sparks said. “Our hitting is getting there, and we are trying two new setters...
“They have never done that so they are sharing that responsibility and that has been a little bit of a struggle for them to learn a new position, especially in a setting position, that is kind of tough for them.
“Keisha is doing a great job with our service feed and our defense and passing for her is par on, I am really excited about that.”
Bland County was paced by Amber Eaton, who dished out 24 assists and added four digs. Julia Davis recorded 35 hits and added three of Bears’ 10 aces, while Kristen French collected nine assists.
“Actually (Amber) is my player of the week this week,” Shelton said. “She gets after every ball, it doesn’t matter where the ball is, she is always after it, she does a great job.”
Shelton thinks the Bears could compete in the MED. Both Galax and Narrows, the top teams in recent seasons, had significant personnel losses, with many expecting Grayson County to be the team to beat.
Just don’t count out the Bears.
“I hope so,” Shelton said. “If we can pull it together and play all three games or five or however many we have to go to.”
Sparks expects Richlands, which will host Graham today and travel Thursday to Twin Valley, to compete for the top spot once again in the Southwest District.
“I guess we are the team to beat since we beat (Carroll County) last year, but I think it looks pretty level,” Sparks said. “I feel like we can compete with them if we iron out a few things we have to work on we should be in good shape, we should be there and very competitive,”
In the last year of the SWD, Sparks expects it to be a wide open race.
“I think it will be pretty even in the district this year, more so than it has been in years past,” he said. “It could be anybody’s game and whoever is the most consistent will end up winning it this year.”
Richlands won the junior varsity contest 25-20, 25-13.
—Contact Brian Woodson
Blues’ netters topple Bears
BLAND, Va. —
The Alley was closed.
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