The Benjamin Russell volleyball team knew it would have a target on its back entering Saturday’s Elmore County Block Party after the Wildcats won the tournament last season. After dropping their first match of the day to Prattville Christian, the Wildcats responded with three straight wins to set up a rematch with PCA in the semifinals. However, the Panthers came out on top again, holding off a better effort from Benjamin Russell in another two-set sweep.
“Anytime you can play against a team that will make you better, you want to play,” BRHS coach Magan Ford said. “They definitely showed us some things we need to go back to work on. We have to correct a few things.”
In the semifinal match, Benjamin Russell (19-13) erased an early deficit to tie the Panthers at 18. However, PCA turned another switch to win seven of the last eight points to win 25-19. The Wildcats stayed close early in the second set but could not match the Lions’ hitters as PCA closed the match with a 25-18 win.
The Wildcats could not get into any rhythm with their offense, recording only 12 kills in the match. It was two fewer than they had in the first match against PCA but Ford was still happier with the way her team battled in the rematch.
“I thought our passing looked good,” Ford said. “Even at the net, we challenged them and they’re a good hitting team. We made some adjustments and I was proud of that.”
PCA was ranked No. 8 in the latest al.com volleyball rankings and the Panthers ended up hoisting the trophy at Elmore County after defeating Alabama Christian in the championship match. Ford said the Wildcats can learn a lot from playing against another quality opponent like the Panthers.
“Our transitions are too slow for a high caliber volleyball team,” Ford said. “We have to read faster and move faster. We’re waiting and reacting and when you do that against a good volleyball team, the ball is already on the floor. That got exposed today.”
The Wildcats took the No. 5 seed after pool play and were matched up with a familiar opponent in the quarterfinals. Benjamin Russell got five kills each from Timira Lawson and Sarah Rogers to take down Wetumpka for the third time this season.
“I think it just comes down to confidence,” Ford said. “The girls get on a roll. I don’t know why they can’t feel that confident in every game so I don’t know what it is.”
Bre Smith led the Wildcats with 23 kills in the tournament, including 12 in a three-set win over Stanhope Elmore. Rogers finished with 16 total kills while adding 22 digs and six aces.
“I thought our front row really stepped up all day,” Ford said. “We have been playing some really tough teams and our front row has had some hard times. To see them come back and play as well as they did today, that was good with the postseason coming up.”
Benjamin Russell hopes Saturday’s tournament experience will help it prepare for the postseason. The Wildcats travel to Opelika on Tuesday with a chance to clinch home-court advantage in the area tournament.
“By the end of the season, it’s not so much your physical ability as it is your mental ability,” Ford said. “Are you tough enough mentally to make it through a tournament? Any time you can play all day and mimic a playoff atmosphere, you need to do it.”