By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BLUEFIELD, Va. —
After four games of volleyball Tuesday night, the Bland County Bears reached deep into their collective spirit and volleyed their way to a victory over the Graham G-Girls on the new GHS court.
“It took a lot of hard work, and effort, and teamwork — and ‘calling’ the ball,” said Bland County junior Amber Eaton, whose powerful serves helped her team get the road win.
The evenly-matched squads traded leads all night, until the Bears wrapped up a 25-21, 20-25, 22-25, 25-19, 15-7 decision.
“I enjoy playing teams when we’re evenly matched,” said Bland County head coach Kelly Shelton. “It’s good competition.”
In the first game, Graham (4-12 overall) got out to a 5-0 lead but their visitors kept their heads. Linsey Dean served back-to-back aces to give Bland County (2-13) its first lead of the day, 20-19.
Graham got only two points after that in game one, on return miscues by the Bears, and the game ended 25-21 on a Graham serve that landed past the back line.
Shelton said, “Winning the first game always helps us. It gets them pumped up and ready to go.”
The Bears’ Tia Thompson limped off the floor in the middle of the first game and had her right ankle iced down. She was carried out of the gym between games.
The score was tied seven times in the second game, which included a 21-hit exchange that came out in Graham’s favor.
The lead was never larger than three points for either team until Graham went ahead 23-19 on a spike by freshman Casey Spencer. Teammate Emily Lewis followed that up with an ace serve and Graham held on to win 25-20 and tie the match at one game apiece.
The G-Girls broke their huddle with several players smiling broadly, and proceeded to take a two-to-one lead.
Graham head coach Jaime Bowman said, “They were having fun. They were playing together as a team. I was able to coach them on specific things (and they) were taking advice and finishing, and playing as a team.”
Graham freshman Emaleigh Gallinger led the way in game three, with powerful spikes, effective defense and three service points at the midpoint of the game. Rebecca Day contributed nifty play at the net, getting two consecutive balls to fall across as Graham broke an 11-11 tie.
The G-Girls did not trail again in that game, leading by six points before Bland County narrowed the gap to two at 24-22. But Graham prevailed 25-22.
The Bears rallied once again in game four, which featured seven ties. Miranda Tolbert bagged four service points in a row to help Bland County out of a 16-14 deficit to an 18-16 lead.
Julia Davis put down a kill to forge a 23-19 lead, then took her turn serving the final two points of the game.
Graham won a coin flip to begin the fifth and final game, but quickly fell into a 7-1 hole and could not recover. Lindsay Faulkner picked up four service points in a row for Bland County in that stretch.
Tolbert had a three-point streak going, but it ended after a 16-hit volley that Graham’s Gallinger concluded with a kill — and Gallinger followed that with an ace.
The final point of the marathon match belonged to Eaton, who skimmed the ball onto the top of the net, from which it fell to the floor unreturnable on the Graham side.
Eaton said after the game that her team got a lot of help from the taller Bears on the court.
“Alyssa (Harris) and Julia (Davis) were all over them, and hit a lot of good spikes,” she said.
Bowman said, “We didn’t finish. We have to be able to finish. ... In the fifth set, they quit playing how they knew how to play. The quit playing their game. The pressure got to them and they were scared of messing up ... .”
She noted that Graham’s team is still young and learning, and acknowledged that Gallinger was a bright spot on the evening. “She was determined,” Bowman said.
She said about her team’s effort, “Honestly, I’m not upset at all.”
Shelton, her counterpart from Bland County, said her team has things to work on as well.
“Calling the ball has been a major issue,” she said. “Definitely, communication is one of our weak points.”
But she was glad to leave with her squad’s second victory of the year.
“We have three more games in the regular season,” she said. “Getting this win kind of makes us stronger with Fort Chiswell coming up. It’s definitely a morale booster.”
— Contact Tom Bone at