HARLAN — A young Middlesboro Lady Jacket volleyball team is going through some expected growing pains early this season. Thursday, MHS saw the Harlan Lady Dragons came from behind to pull out a 22-25, 25-21, 25-21 win in the district opener for both teams.
It was actually the very first game for new Lady Dragon coach Tara Posey.
“It was good to win that first one. The girls were really nervous, but they pulled it through,” Posey said.
The Lady Dragons jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the first game with Desiree Bowman providing four straight service points, including an ace.
After a time out Middlesboro forced a side out and Lauren Schneider reeled off eight straight points of her own with a spike by freshman Anajae Stephney bouncing out off a Harlan player the biggest highlight of the run as the Lady Jackets went up 9-5.
Middlesboro maintained that lead until Paige Woodsby came on to serve and the Lady Dragons strung together five straight points to take a 17-16 advantage. The Lady Jackets went back in control behind the serving of Kara Hart and another kill by Stephney put the Lady Jackets up 22-17 and they went on to take the set 25-22.
“You know, we lost a lot of good players from last year. Fortunately we’ve got a lot a good players coming up, but they’re young,” MHS coach Mike Spradlin said of his defending 52nd District champions. “They’ve gotten a lot better in the last three weeks and I expect that in another three weeks they’ll be doing a lot more.”
Senior leaders stepped up on both sides in the second set. Taylor Hall had an ace to give Harlan an early lead while Middlesboro got a kill from Carissa Padgett and an ace from Schneider as the score went back and forth.
It was 8-8 when Padgett reeled off four straight service points.
A kill from Hall brought the Lady Dragons within 13-11 and later a pair of service points from Lauren Hogue put Harlan up 18-17. Two service points from Woodsby, including another ace, gave Harlan a 22-19 edge and they went on to take the second set 25-21.
Hall led the Lady Dragons with five kills and a block in the match.
“Taylor Hall is our senior, our leader, our everything. She does well to keep all the other girls together and just does it all for us. She played really well tonight,” Posey said.
Harlan surged ahead in the final set as Bowman and Woodsby combined for six service points and a 10-5 lead.
Middlesboro answered behind four straight service points by Candice Bruce, including an ace that made it 10-9, but the Lady Dragons were able to stay in front.
Stephney provided a highlight kill with a hard spike straight onto the floor to bring the Lady Jackets within 13-11. Middlesboro was later called for a carry and an ace from Hall kept the Lady Dragons in control.
Kills from Schneider and Padgett tied the set at 18, but the Lady Jackets struggled a bit with communication and their serves as Harlan pulled away for the 25-21 win.
Padgett led Middlesboro with six kills and two blocks while Schneider accounted for 12 service points.
“We still have to learn to communicate better but they are getting better at that. They’re young and they’re timid, they’re not aggressive enough yet, but they’re getting that way,” Spradlin added. “Our foundation is Carissa Padgett and Lauren Schneider and I’m very pleased with how they’re stepping up as seniors and providing leadership.”
Woodsby had a team-high 12 service points for Harlan while Bowman and Taylor Cochran finished with eight each. Those three had two aces apiece.
Middlesboro (0-2) hosts Harlan County Wednesday while Harlan (1-0) visits Lynn Camp Tuesday.