With state playoffs on the horizon, Benjamin Russell demonstrated Tuesday that it has an ability to close sets.
The Wildcats defeated Stanhope Elmore 3-1 in area play behind strong attacking set up by sophomore setter Kennedy Tate, despite trailing for much of the match’s final two games, both of which it won.
“Volleyball is such an up-and-down sport with the momentum and everything,” Benjamin Russell coach Magan Ford said. “That’s what we’ve been talking about is finding a way to finish. So we’re digging ourselves in a hole, but we’re staying in it, finding a way to win. And that grit will help us in the postseason.”
For the incredibly important role they play on attack, setters can often be unsung heroes on a volleyball court.
Tate showed Tuesday why, on a team loaded with four seniors, she stepped up as an underclassman to claim the role this year and why she’s so valuable for the Wildcats.
It seemed no matter the position she found herself on second hit against the Mustangs, the ball came off her hands in a way that gave hitters like Zaria Roberson, Laura Thames, Ryann Ruffin or Leah Leonard a clean swing at the ball.
“Night-in, night-out, she puts the team on her back and does what we need her to do,” Ford said. “She’s just a sophomore and there’s untapped potential, who knows what’s gonna come of her. But she’s a great teammate, she’s smart, she’s always there. Our offense starts with her.”
With the match tied at one set apiece and the third-set score 16-14 Stanhope, one of Tate’s passes found Ruffin above the net to spark a four-point rally, capped with another assist from Tate to senior libero JaNiya Martin.
It gave the Wildcats the first lead they’d held in the set since it was 3-2.
Stanhope responded with a three-point rally of its own to regain the advantage, but the Wildcats outscored the Mustangs 7-1 from there with another three assists from Tate making way for a 25-20 third-set win.
Not bad for a 10th grader playing up at the varsity level.
“It’s taken a lot to step into that position because I’m so much younger than everybody on the team,” Tate said. “(I look up to) Zaria. She just encourages me when I’m down and she’s always picking people up.”
Tate also got a chance to demonstrate some creativity against Stanhope.
Not only did she demonstrate every pass in her arsenal, placing equally accurate balls to Benjamin Russell’s middle blockers, outside hitters and back row attackers, but she made a couple attacks of her own when opportunities arose to do so.
One back row pass carried Tate too close to the net and she went up with the same form she used on her countless sets previously in the match. This time, however, she tipped the ball into a spot between the Mustangs’ front and back rows for a kill.
“I have to be on the front row (for that shot), then when it’s tight I can tip it behind,” Tate said.
Her efforts in Tuesday’s match are made even more impressive by the fact she was playing sick. Not with COVID-19, of course, but even through the adrenaline and energy of the match she felt sluggish on the court.
“I had a little indigestion, and I don’t know, I just felt sick,” Tate. “I felt it on the court. It was bad.”
Still, she and the rest of Benjamin Russell’s team banded together to pull off another come-from-behind win in the fourth set to close the match.
With their team on a bye, the Wildcats’ football players were in attendance at the game and upped the atmosphere with plenty of raucous cheering.
“I think they’re getting more into it, they’re learning more about volleyball,” Ford said, laughing. “But no, they're great. And to see the relationship between the athletes is amazing and it’s helping build pride in our school. So to see them come out and support the girls, it means everything to us.”
Benjamin Russell still has a chance to host its area tournament following the victory, with its final regular season area contest at Wetumpka on the docket for Thursday.