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Lizi Arbogast / The Outlook Reeltown's Taniya Haynes (3) and Kenzie Hornsby (20) try to put a block against a kill from Central Coosa's Katie Windsor.

Holding onto a 10-point lead in the third set, it looked like Reeltown’s volleyball team was going to take an easy stranglehold on a match that was tied at one set each.

But Central Coosa wasn’t going down without a fight like the first time these teams met in Class 2A Area 8 action. The Cougars slowly but surely chipped away at the deficit, but it still seemed like Reeltown was going to walk away with the third-set win. It had three straight set points, but the Cougars staved off each one and eventually tied it at 25-25.

From there, the teams went point for point and the exhilaration in the gym started to rise. Emotions were high, and the atmosphere said whoever won Set 3 was going to win the match. That’s exactly what happened as Coosa completed its comeback, winning the set, 30-28, with a push and a block kill from Aliona McKenzie. That fired up the Cougars just enough to hold on for a 3-1 victory in the Thursday night match.

“I think we just let the pressure get to us,” Reeltown coach Kelli Hilyer said. “Our serves, that’s where it hit us pretty hard was with our serving. We practice and practice serving. I make them hit so many in a row and it just didn’t help (Thursday night).”  

What really helped Central Coosa take advantage late in that third set was the fact it stayed with its offensive plan. Where the Rebels seemed to be more cautious — not setting up their offense and electing to just get it over the net — the Cougars kept hitting.

“We couldn’t give them anything easy so they couldn’t set anything up,” Coosa coach Chris Elliott said. “That’s what I picked up on was as long as we were giving them something hard, they couldn’t get that offense going because they did have some pretty good hitters. As long as they couldn’t get those hitters the sets they needed, I thought we had a really good chance. They were sending a lot of free balls in, which made it easy for us.” 

Katie Windsor really took things over in the third set and she finished with 12 kills, a tip and a block. As the year has gone on, Windsor has really started to learn the court and is looking for holes in the defense rather than just hitting it as hard as possible.

“In the years past, I haven’t been the best server and I haven’t been the best hitter,” Windsor said. “But coach Elliott has helped me learn that I gotta know Katie — Katie on the net and off the net — and I gotta make the best decisions for wherever the ball is at.”

Probably the biggest difference in Thursday’s game than the first time the teams met when Reeltown swept the Cougars in straight sets was Coosa’s back row. With the Rebels struggling a bit from the service line, the Cougars were doing a better job on the receive and they were passing the ball better to setter Kera Dunham.

“If you can’t pass, you can’t play this game,” Elliott said. “We have targets that we use to have them pass to. I have a three, two and one pass, and a three pass is perfect where she can set anywhere, so we are always looking for a three pass. Kera does do an excellent job of making something out of nothing.”

Dunham helped run a very well-balanced offense. In addition to Windsor’s 14 game winners, McKenzie added six kills, Daja Pearson had four and Arianna Harrell contributed three.

Despite the loss, Reeltown showed a lot of fight. After losing Set 3, the Rebels went toe to toe with the Cougars in the final frame. Neither team led by more than two points the whole set except when Coosa finally won it, 25-22, and it was tied at 1, 4, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 19, 20, 21 and 22.

“I told our girls to take that (third-set) momentum, harness it, focus it and take it to them in the last one,” Elliott said. “The last match, though, was neck and neck. We were swapping blows. I said whoever is going to get a couple ahead is probably going to take this thing. We both made some mistakes, but thankfully they made a couple more than we did so we could come out on top.” 

Lizi Arbogast is the sports editor at Tallapoosa Publishers, Inc.