Lady Lions serve up win in league opener

Last Thursday (March 4), Cottage Grove played its first match of the volleyball season, sweeping Elmira in three sets at the Falcons’ nest.

Coach Abby Ladd discussed the challenges the girls would have this season with COVID-19 adding previously unseen considerations to the game.

“It’s a whole different game,” said Ladd. “It’s hard to figure out the protocols. There are so many moving pieces now that it’s a completely different sport. [COVID-19 adds] a whole separate piece that we have never had to deal with before, so we’re all learning and changing and dealing with it every day.”

The Lionesses managed to navigate the changes successfully in the first set. They held the lead for the entire set, with 10 kills overall from junior Izabell Senters, junior Taylor McKay, senior Matty Ladd, and senior Avery Hutchins.

Serving was on point, with one ace from Senters, and three from senior Bella Costa. Matty Ladd and Hutchins had a double block near the set’s end, and Hutchins clinched the win with a kill to finish the set at 25-17. Cottage Grove started the second set down, not taking the lead until the score reached 16-15. One issue for the Lionesses was the lack of palpable energy in the gym.

“I think it’s really difficult for them to get used to not having family members here, and the people that they love and care about, but also, the volume and the energy in the gym, said Coach Ladd. “Our biggest battle this year is going to be creating energy. We’ve had it easy; we’ve had [at least] 50 people that come to everything. That creates energy for us. Now it’s something we have to create for ourselves — and we have a smaller roster [this year], so it’s harder.”

Despite the fact that they started behind the Hawks, Cottage Grove played a great set, and managed to pull out the win. Junior Gracie Arnold had a block early on, and kills from Matty Ladd and Hutchins, as well as a sneak tip from junior Peyton Kidd, helped the girls bring the score to a tie.

Arnold had four more blocks in the set, with her final block sealing the win of set two at 25-19.

Coach Ladd reiterated the fact that part of the difficulty came down to the low overall energy in the gym. “It feels less serious,” said the coach. “It feels like a scrimmage and not a game, so we have to be able to find a way to build that energy within ourselves and bring it to the court.”

The girls did create enough energy to pull through the set and start set three strong, leading off with a kill from Matty Ladd. Another block from Arnold, an additional kill from Matty Ladd, a tip from Kidd and an ace from Costa helped keep the score even. But the third set was much closer throughout, with the Falcons actually pulling ahead towards the set’s end.

Arnold had one more block in the set, which allowed the Lionesses to tie the game at 20-20, and Falcons errors earned Cottage Grove the final points in the match, 25-22.

Coach Ladd explained that maintaining momentum and energy would be a key element to the team’s future success this season.

“We were very up and down today with our momentum and our energy. I think [part of it is] the adjustment to [the game] being completely different, but also being at a game for the first time in a year is so new. There are a lot of new things that we were used to before and we’re not now, and that makes a difference.”

While Cottage Grove came out victorious in Thursday’s game, they struggled to repeat their performance in a non-league match at Creswell on Saturday (March 6). The Bulldogs defeated the Lionesses in four sets, 25-23, 25-15, 22-25, and 25-17.

Arnold played strong, with six kills and five blocks. Senters and Hutchins also led in kills, with seven and five respectively. Matty Ladd and McKay also had one ace each.

Cottage Grove returned to the court on Tuesday (March 9), hosting Junction City (after press deadlines), falling to the Tigers in an epic five-set barnburner. The Lions won the first two sets, 25-18, 25-17, only to have Junction City rally for a hard-fought third-set win to avoid the sweep, 30-28. The Tigers then won the fourth set, 25-17, to even the match, then won the final game in extra points, 17-15.

The Lady Lions will host Marist tonight at 6:45 p.m.

As with all sporting events this season, no spectators are allowed to attend the game.

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