VALDOSTA – The Lowndes High volleyball team played the role of spoiler as they swept rival Valdosta 3-0 Tuesday night.
Playing across town at Valdosta on Senior Night, the Vikettes denied the Wildcats a chance to end their regular season on a high note.
“We’re really happy with it – for a three-set sweep and we also beat them earlier this season,” Lowndes head volleyball coach Autumn Bell said. “That was one of our big goals at the beginning of the season. With this being such a big rivalry, a lot of good can come from it, especially leading in to our region tournament that’s coming up later in the week. We’ve got to have a lot of good volleyball with that.”
The Vikings took the first set by a count of 25-22 and the second set, 25-20.
In the final set, the Vikettes looked as though they would run away with it as they built an early 9-3 lead.
Despite being down two sets to none, the ‘Cats stormed back to take the lead 18-17. The surge wasn’t enough as the Vikettes were able to hold them off to win the set 25-22.
“That is something we have been working through this entire season, honestly,” Bell said. “When we do get in those ruts, try to change our mindset, get our minds right and really just pushing forward one point at a time.”
Lowndes’ trio of Otaifo Esenabhalu, Kaylan McConnehead and Kaycee Bussey combined for 31 points and 26 kills Tuesday, while Mary Allison Eubanks scored nine points for the Vikettes. Bussey and Kate Craven each had three aces on serve and Milly Prince had 24 digs in the win.
Mason Holtzclaw had nine kills to lead Valdosta. Alivia Fennell had 23 assists and a team-high 14 digs in the loss.
For the ‘Cats, the regular season ends in disappointing fashion.
Last week, the ‘Cats were unable to win the Region 1-6A tournament despite being the host – losing to Houston County and Lee County in straight sets before defeating Northside in the final match of the night.
Going down in a sweep against their crosstown rivals now sends the ‘Cats into the state playoffs searching for answers.
“I feel, on offense, we couldn’t put the ball away,” Valdosta head coach Anna McCall said. “Even though we prepared and we knew what they were going to do, we just didn’t follow the plan. We didn’t follow the plan and we just weren’t ready for the physical part of it. We just weren’t ready physically and just couldn’t follow through and finish.
“Any time you play these big games and you fall short, it’s a downer. It’s harder to come back. When you win these big games, that kind of leads you forward to what’s coming.”
Lowndes hosts the Region 1-7A tournament Thursday, starting at 4 p.m. against Colquitt County.
“This season, we’ve already broken records and it’s the first time we’ve ever been first in the regular season in the region,” Bell said. “So that’s big for us, but our job’s not done yet. They set a goal at the beginning of the season that we were going to win region, so that’s really what we want to stay hungry for.
“We have that mentality of, ‘all gas, no brakes,’ for our team and we’re just pushing forward with that – not being just OK, being ready for everything else that’s coming. We still have a lot left in us.”
With the loss Tuesday, Valdosta (22-15) has dropped four of their last six matches and seven of their last 10.
When asked how her team can turn the page from their recent struggles, McCall was succinct.
“Work hard,” McCall said. “Hard-er.”
Shane Thomas is the sports editor at the Valdosta Daily Times.