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A key adjustment made by Wilson Christian varsity volleyball head coach Ryan Vanderboegh after the first set fueled his team to a sweep of Greenfield School in straight sets by a 25-18, 25-22, 25-12 margin Thursday night.
In early play, the Lady Knights’ Kaelyn Wall presented a challenge for his team to deal with at the net on top of adjusting to the sauna-like heat inside the Greenfield gym.
Wall had been rising vertically above the defense and spiking down shots upon the visiting team, exposing holes left open in the court. So after winning the first set, Vanderboegh rearranged his lineup to match Wall with veteran middle hitter Tori Linkous.
“That helped us because they’ve got some very good players as well,” Vanderboegh explained. “I think when we could minimize what they could do at the net, (Linkous) is obviously a big presence. Just having her at the net helps just that mental presence and she’s able to hit those holes.”
Vanderboegh characterized the first set, when his team led with a healthy cushion for most of the way, as being riddled with mistakes. But when Linkous moved up front by the net, the team pulled itself back together as kills became a routine part of the Chargers’ gameplan moving forward.
Linkous powerful swinging right arm was hard to stop. Her team seemed to gain confidence from it and her 10 kills dispersed across the match, while Greenfield lost its way through the second set.
“I think my girls were a little intimidated by her,” head coach Jadelyn Castillo admitted.
After neither team could separate from the other midway through the second set, Wilson Christian pulled ahead by three by way of powerful returns late in the set and came within one point of closing it out to take a 2-0 lead.
Responding with a point to make the score 24-22, Greenfield looked as if it wasn’t quite ready to go down 2-0. But the very next serve, the ball went flying directly into the net; the rally was derailed in anticlimactic fashion.
The moment was emblematic of a number of key mistakes that dug Greenfield into an unnecessary hole. At every timeout, Castillo talked with her players about cutting down on the mistakes, and yet they continued to pervade at key moments.
Even without an answer for Linkous, Castillo gave voice that the Knights would have kept the game a lot closer had it not committed so many errors.
Castillo attributed some of the mistakes to her team losing confidence and not working together, something she wants them to work on correcting in the future.
“They know what to do, but sometimes they get nervous,” she said. “They struggle a lot with confidence and I think that’s our main focus this year to focus on confidence. Once I’m able to lift them up and bring their confidence level up, and once they’re able to work together as a team and lift each other up on the court, I think they can accomplish really good things.”
After winning the first two sets, Wilson Christian had little trouble putting the game away. The Lady Chargers led the rest of the way after an early 4-4 tie and used 6-0 and 5-0 runs midway through the set as a turning point. The latter run came with Linkous serving the ball with powerful force onto the opposing side of the net.
In the win, a team effort was headlined by Linkous’ play for Wilson Christian. Ashley Hartsfield added two kills, 18 assists and two aces. Peyton Norville contributed two kills and seven digs, while Danielle Reese finished with six kils, one ace and two digs. Madison Carnes had one kill, three aces and two digs and Lydia Renfrow piled on a kill and seven digs.
After the game, Vanderboegh said coming out with a 3-0 win will give his team confidence moving into conference play against Fuquay-Varina Hilltop Christian on Monday.
“I think it really helps going into our first conference game getting two wins under our belt,” he said. “Going out of a season when you’re 18-2, you wonder what the next season is going to be like. We’re just trying to play one game at a time.”