On Tuesday night, the “R” in Rowan County stood for resilient.
The volleyball Valkyries went on the road and swept a young Russell team 25-20, 25-12, 25-21 five days after experiencing a low point.
“Thursday night at Greenup County was by far our worst game of the season,” Rowan County coach Steve Walters said of a 3-1 defeat. “We made tons, tons and tons of unforced errors.”
Despite little practice time in between, that same group bounced back with a sharp performance against Russell in a rematch of last year’s 16th Region final won by the Lady Devils.
Cutting down dramatically on mistakes, Rowan County trailed only twice and quickly overcame those deficits early in the second and third games.
“Rowan played very well,” Russell coach Darrell Adkins said. “They’ve gotten much better as the year has gone along. After losing a whole lot of seniors from last year, their girls have really stepped up and regrouped. They are probably co-favorites in the region now with Raceland.”
Rowan County handed Raceland its only 16th Region loss back on Sept. 10.
The Valkyries’ season record (18-15) may not be impressive, but that’s as much a reflection of the formidable slate of opponents that Walters put in his team’s path.
“This is by far the toughest schedule in my 20 years,” Walters said. “We’ve played seven teams in the Top 25. Our motto is that we don’t care what our record is, we want to be battle-tested. I hope the schedule is going to benefit us. We’ve only lost twice in the region.”
Certainly, Walters was happy with the way Rowan County rebounded from the Greenup County loss.
“I liked the idea that, with only a 30-minute practice Monday, our players were able to correct their mistakes by working on it themselves,” the coach said.
Rowan County has developed some experience after graduating six of its primary players from last year’s 32-win squad.
Senior Faith Conn, one of the key returners, registered nine kills with no hitting errors to help lead the way against Russell. She also accounted for three of the team’s six blocks.
“Faith kind of anchors our offense,” Walters said. “If she wasn’t so good offensively at the net, we could run her at libero. She’s that good all the way around.”
Junior Michaela McClain added six kills, while McKayla Ledford had five aces and combined with libero Peyton Bailey to lead Rowan in digs.
Walters said the team is just now getting a full complement of players back from injuries. Bailey suffered a torn MCL in the summer while competing in the Bluegrass Games and missed the first three weeks of the season.
“She’s been kind of limited since,” Walters said. “Tonight was the second time she served this season.”
Rowan County led by as many as nine points in the first game before Russell closed to within 22-20 on a string of service points from eighth-grader Mackenzie Cole. Rowan weathered the rally, however, winning the next three points.
In game two, the Valkyries outscored Russell 22-6 after spotting the Lady Devils at 4-0 lead.
Kaley Sanders served five consecutive points in the third game to put Rowan County up 10-4. Russell cut it to 15-13 before Rowan pushed the lead out to seven.
“They communicated better tonight and played more aggressive, not letting (Emma) Ison and (Sara) Hieneman dictate flow at the net,” Walters said.
It’s been an up and down season for the Lady Devils (12-14) with several sophomores, freshmen and eighth-graders in the lineup.
“Unforced errors was the story tonight,” Adkins said. “We played tentative all night. We’re young, but they are wearing varsity uniforms and have to step up and play like varsity. I told them I still believe we have a good enough team and players to win this thing (region).”
ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2671.