From the very beginning of the season, the Scotland varsity volleyball team knew who would be standing in the way of their eighth-consecutive Southeastern Conference championship.
That team was the Pinecrest Patriots, and October 2nd marked the second meeting between the two squads that have been on a collision course all season for conference supremacy. The first match between the Fighting Scots and the Patriots was a five-set endurance test that saw Scotland barely edge Pinecrest to remain undefeated.
But at home in front of the jam-packed Scotland High School bleachers, the Fighting Scots closed the door more emphatically on Pinecrest this time with a four-set victory (25-20, 20-25, 25-22, 25-21) that lived up to every ounce of hype which preceded it.
And now yet another conference championship is within the Scots’ grasp.
“When we play like we’re supposed to play we are still the number one team in the conference,” said Libby Ingram, who was responsible for two of the three set-ending points that led to Scotland’s victory, including a final ace in set four which brought the crowd to its’ feet.
“We can’t be too cocky or confident going forward with the rest of our season, but this win means that we still have it in us to be the best. We went out there and got the job done tonight,” she said.
Five points was the largest margin separating Scotland and Pinecrest during the entirety of the match, as the Patriots matched up well to the Fighting Scots in terms of size and athleticism. Led by Mary Grace Phipps and Felicia Painter at the net, the Patriots deflected several Scotland kill attempts and vaulted to an early lead in the first set.
However, the turning point in the first set came when an assist from Avery Callahan (one of her 18 on the night) gave Greta Griswold a kill opportunity. Griswold feigned hitting a rocket into the Pinecrest defense and instead softly tapped the ball over the net, which fooled the Patriots and resulted in a point to tie the first set at 15-15. Two consecutive aces from Maddie Milholland later, and the Scots never looked back, going on a 10-5 run to take the first set.
Griswold proved invaluable against Pinecrest, leading her team with 15 serving points, four aces, eight digs and 21 of 28 passes on target.
But as they did in their first match against Scotland in early September, Pinecrest didn’t relent and instead bounced back to take the second set. Painter again would be a major factor by scoring several kills, and she was joined by Janea Williams who was the tallest player on the floor for both teams. The Patriots would lead for the entirety of the 25-20 second set victory.
In a match where every single point could potentially alter the outcome of the night, both teams needed the third set in the worst way and it showed.
There were seven lead changes in the third set, as well as 11 different instances where Scotland and Pinecrest found themselves tied. But down the stretch it was Ingram who closed the door on the Patriots to give her team the 2-1 set lead, scoring three of the final four points including an aggressive kill for the 25th point that was sent careening out of bounds after Pinecrest unsuccessfully attempted to defend the strike.
With the momentum shifted back in their favor, Scotland sought to clinch the match in the fourth set. And though Pinecrest never quite went away, the Fighting Scots were carried to victory by Brianna Harris and Caroline Pridgen. Harris had 23 assists and six digs against Pinecrest Tuesday night, including two great diving digs on a single point late in the fourth set that were later capitalized upon to give Scotland a 22-18 lead.
Despite the length of the Patriots, Pridgen couldn’t be stopped down the stretch as well, notching several of her team-leading 22 kills in the fourth set when her team needed them most.
The Scots are now 16-0 on the season and are also in the driver’s seat regarding their path to another conference championship. With just three matches left (Hoke, at Lumberton and Richmond), Scotland needs just one more victory to clinch.
And a familiar face was once again visible on the sidelines: Scotland head coach David Barnes was back with the team after enduring a hip surgery mere weeks ago.
Seeing his team maintain their focus and drive while he recuperated, Barnes is more certain than ever of the 2012 Fighting Scots’ ability to do great things.
“They say when the cat is away the mice will play,” said Barnes after the game. “But after missing a few matches, my hat’s off to this team for showing this coaching staff and me that they have the will and focus to be great.”