For The Independent
OLIVE HILL —
Russell's volleyball team had a Squid, a Bug, a Dew Bug and a Jumping Bean for Tuesday's 16th Region first round match against Ashland.
By the end of the night, the Lady Devils had one thing more — a 3-1 win (24-26, 25-11, 25-21, 25-15) over the Volleycats.
Russell (25-12) won its third straight match over Ashland this season, and senior outside hitter Sydney Watkins — “Squid” — had a huge hand in the result; 25 kills and another nine hits — numbers about which she knew nothing at the time because “it throws me off,” she said.
“She's just a freak athletically,” Russell coach Darrell Adkins said. “She plays higher than anybody.”
About the nickname: Watkins doesn't know its origin. Last night, her mom, Tonia Buchanan, frequently waved a “Squid #20” sign.
“I honestly couldn't tell you,” she said. “I don't have a friend who calls me Sydney.”
Senior defensive specialist Kelsie Hicks answers to “Bug,” a shortened form of “Love Bug” courtesy of her mother, Belinda Hicks. Her night included nine digs and 10 points when she served.
“My whole family calls me 'Bug',” Hicks said.
Senior middle blocker Arden Gross, “Dew Bug” started out as “Ardie Dew” courtesy of her mom Kim, who the Lady Devils dubbed “Kimba.” Her totals: 14 kills and nine more hits.
Was Gross thinking about the loss Ashland dealt Russell in last year's championship?
“Definitely,” she said. “It was a revenge thing and a pride thing.”
Eighth-grader Sara Hieneman answers to “Jumping Bean,” and she added three blocks and four hits — and she doesn't mind that Kim Gross bestowed the nickname.
“It's all good,” she said.
Ashland coach Jeffrey Huff was nevertheless happy with his team's showing.
“It was mostly down to executing errors, and those things happen,” Huff said. “I was pleased with the game we played; we just didn't play it really well.”
Ashland won the first set with a simple strategy: get the ball to the back corners, where Huff thought Russell would have a hard time returning the ball.
Thing was, Russell took an 18-12 lead on senior Madison Cole's serve. It wasn't enough — the Volleycats' Shannon Card had three points on her serve, as did teammate Erika Bonner, which gave Ashland a 24-23 lead.
Watkins had six kills and an ace, and Hieneman added three blocks.
Cole and Hicks served in Russell's 10-1 run midway through the second set (which gave the Lady Devils a 20-10 lead). It seemed like Watkins was everywhere: seven kills, including a two-handed dink over the Volleycat front line.
“The second set stands out to me,” Watkins said. “The setters (Cole and Cassie Fultz), their sets were on point.”
Ashland's Abbey Card’s two-fisted kill and service winner gave the Volleycats a 21-20 lead late in the third set. Then, more Watkins: block, two kills and a two-handed block — and the game.
The Lady Devils unleashed one last run, a 9-1 streak to finish the night. Seven of the points came on Fultz's serve, Gross added a block and a kill, and Emma Ison had a hit and a kill.
Adkins offered a two-word explanation for the difference between the first set and the last three.
“Unforced errors,” he said. “... We cut back on those, and when we did, we didn't give up on four- or five-point runs.”
Russell meets East Carter in tonight's semifinals at 7:30 p.m. (Greenup County and Rowan County square off at 6 p.m. tonight). Before that, however, was the matter of today's submarine sandwich lunch courtesy of Lt. Col. Terry Maggard, Russell's Reserve Officer Training Corps teacher, which he said he would buy …
“Just to motivate and reward them,” Maggard said. “They played great.”
In the first game of the night, East Carter defeated Fleming County 3-0 (25-17, 25-10, 25-13) to advance to the region semifinals.
The Lady Raiders cruised to lengthy leads in all three sets. Coach Cathy Harris was happy just to have a completely healthy team.
“We had three or four injuries,” Harris said. “We've been working on our passing and getting the ball to the setters, so the setters can get the (sets).”
At times, it seemed like East (18-16) had an all-Gollihue attack. In the first set, senior Stephanie served seven straight points in both the first and second sets, and sophomore Whitney's three kills keyed a 7-0 run to close out the second.
East finished the match with a 14-3 run.