ECHS Volleyball Tournament

Benjamin Russell High School volleyball competes in pool play during a tournament at Elmore County High School in Eclectic , Ala on Saturday, Sep. 18, 2021. [Tallapoosa Publishers, Inc./ Jake Arthur]

Elmore County High School played host to its annual “Block Party” volleyball tournament Saturday, which featured 11 teams from the surrounding error for two to three pool play games followed by a single-elimination tournament. All matches were best of three sets.

Benjamin Russell, Horseshoe Bend and Reeltown were all in attendance, with Benjamin Russell being the lone team to make the quarterfinals of tournament play before falling in three sets to Wetumpka.

Benjamin Russell caps busy week of action

The Wildcats’ season is heating up. So is their team.

After a match against Horseshoe Bend was rescheduled to this week, the Wildcats played no less than five matches from Monday through Friday.

It won four of those games, capping a stretch in which the Wildcats won seven of their past eight games.

“It was good to see them go through that, still playing hard Monday through Thursday, and then come out and they’re still playing that hard Saturday,” Benjamin Russell coach Magan Ford said. “It speaks to their commitment and then what we’ll be able to do when we get in the playoffs.”

It’s been a stark turnaround for a team that started with wins in just two of its first 11 games.

Perhaps the biggest sign of growth came in the team’s quarterfinal match against Wetumpka. The Indians and Wildcats met earlier this season and Wetumpka came out on top 3-1, a match which Wetumpka controlled much of the way.

When the teams met Saturday, it was a battle. There were less than 50 spectators but that fact seemed unfathomable based on how loud the gym was.

Benjamin Russell took the first set 25-20. The second set was tied at more than 10 points, with the lead and momentum constantly swinging between the two sides.

Wetumpka eventually nudged out to a 25-22 win before capturing the third set 15-10 to win the match, but to be neck-and-neck with the Indians throughout marked a significant improvement for the Wildcats.

“They’ve done everything I’ve asked them to,” Ford said. “They’re growing, and we understood from the beginning of August that our goal was October. Not August. Not September. And we’ve consistently gotten better every single game.”

Middle blocker Laura Thames went down with a rolled ankle earlier in the tournament and was replaced by Tamya Harris, who made her presence felt with a string of blocks at the net.

“Their number 10 gave us a lot of trouble last time we played them,” Ford said. “So for Tamya, who’s been the backup to Laura, Laura’s a senior, for her to come in and to do such a good job against such a good hitter — she took her opportunity and made the most of it.”

Prior to taking on the Indians, the Wildcats lost a three-set battle with Elmore County before rolling over Billingsley in straight sets.

As serve and serve receive goes, so goes Horseshoe Bend

When Horseshoe Bend was on its game Saturday, it was collecting aces and creating successful attacks of opposing serves.

Such was the case against Reeltown. 

The Generals beat the Rebels in straight sets. Cara Johnson picked up back-to-back aces to seal a 27-25 victory in the first set after Reeltown came back from down 21-16 to force a few extra volleys.

“We’re playing better since the last time we played Reeltown,” Horseshoe Bend coach Julie Turner said. “Our serve receive is better. We’re serving the ball somewhat better.”

Johnson picked up another ace in the second set while her twin sister Jacey Johnson grabbed three of her own. Greenleigh Key added a pair.

The Generals went ahead 22-13 before surrendering a seven-point rally, but held on for a 25-21 set win to take the match.

Turner said she’ll need her team to maintain a high level throughout sets moving forward.

“That’s one of the things that we’ve been working on, because we’ve done that a lot this year,” Turner said. “We’ll win the first set and then we’ll lose the second game and we’ll have to play a third. A lot of times we’ll either win that one or lose that one, and that’s what we keep talking to the girls about, ‘How do we push forward?’”

More dominant serving led to a 25-14 win in the first set against Billingsley to open bracket play for Horseshoe Bend, but miscommunications on serve-receive and a few other mental errors led to back-to-back set losses and its resulting elimination from the tournament.

With four starters out, Reeltown gets experience for depth

Reeltown went 0-4 at the Block Party tournament Saturday with four of its players out via injury or quarantine.

Among them was starting setter Cameron Tubbs and two starting hitters. As such, head coach Kelli Hilyer got some varsity experience for a couple JV players.

Leeandra Hooks and Sandrea Coleman were both called up and saw some action for the Rebels.

“They’ve been putting in some hard work along the way, and they’re part of a group of leaders from JV,” Hilyer said.

In terms of improvements moving forward, Hilyer said she’d like to see better coordination from her team. A few passing and receiving errors resulted from such lapses in the tournament.

“They’ve got to communicate a little bit more and move their feet,” Hilyer said. “Even the girls tell each other, let’s get where we need to be, move our feet, communicate. Sometimes the ball just doesn’t drop where you want it to.”

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