After his team’s four-set loss to Hoggard Thursday night, Scotland volleyball coach David Barnes huddled together with his teary-eyed players and delivered a message.
The loss in the third round of the 4A state playoffs may have signaled the end of his Fighting Scots’ career, but Barnes had one simple thing to say to his team.
He was proud of them.
“Even when we were losing, this team never appeared scared, never backed out of the gym and we never quit,” Barnes said. “I told them all to never forget the Scotland program they all helped make successful. You ask anyone in this area about Scotland volleyball and they’ll tell you how great it’s been, and these girls have been a huge part of that throughout their time here.”
On the road to their eighth straight conference championship, the Fighting Scots compensated for their lack of size and roster depth with strong team chemistry and an unflinching will to win.
But the Hoggard Vikings squad that came to town on Thursday was a state championship finalist in 2011 and is currently loaded with players six feet tall and above.
While the Scots kept things close throughout, ultimately Hoggard’s length and power at the net proved too difficult a task to overcome.
A solo block from Scotland’s Libby Ingram opened a first set that saw Scotland vault to an early 9-6 lead over the Vikings. But then the Hoggard tandem of Angie Papach and Montgomery Register (both over six feet tall) would begin to assert themselves, collaborating on blocks of their own and registering kills to shift the lead back in the Vikings’ favor. The Scots would fall behind 14-18 in the set before a great play from Caroline Pridgen (who had 18 kills in the match) helped spark a Scotland rally.
Chasing a ball out of bounds, Pridgen would two-hand volley the ball backwards and into the Hoggard court for a kill that brought the Scotland bleachers to their feet. Scotland and Hoggard would battle to a 24-24 tie in the first set.
But while Pridgen showed several flashes of her dominant self throughout the match, she found herself frequently challenged at the net by Register, who notched several kills down the stretch to finally give Hoggard the 24-26 first set victory.
In a match that was dictated by spurts of momentum, the first set loss would prove costly.
“With the way the first set went, a win for us could’ve easily changed the outcome of the match,” Barnes said. “Both teams would get on a roll for a while, but we allowed them to gain the momentum one too many times.”
The best chance for Scotland to even the contest came at the start of the second set, when the Scots exploded out of the gate with a 7-0 lead. Ingram would record a serving ace during this early run, with Pridgen and Greta Griswold each collecting kills to give the Scots a healthy point cushion to build upon.
But almost as quick as they gained the lead, Scotland would lose it as Hoggard senior Cassidy Stevenson took control of the game to help her team regain a 14-13 lead.
The Scots appeared rattled after the Hoggard comeback, and it reflected in their play for the remainder of the set. Scotland miscues combined with Hoggard’s aggressive attacks led to a 10-3 Vikings run that culminated with an emphatic 16-25 second set victory.
With their backs against the wall after the second set collapse, Scotland didn’t shrink away from the challenge Hoggard presented them. Rather, the Fighting Scots would give one last heroic effort to climb back in the contest, and it resulted in a 26-24 third set victory.
The set was a back-and-forth battle that saw neither team more than two points for the entirety. Many of Scotland’s miscues would continue plaguing the team, including missed volleys and the occasional lapse in communication. But the insertion of Scotland’s Jessi Kee into the lineup appeared to give the Scots renewed energy, as Kee notched a few crucial kills to reinvigorate her team.
A strong effort from Griswold also punctuated Scotland’s third-set win, as she helped temper the rapid-fire Hoggard kill attempts by notching a season-high 13 digs, with many of those coming in the third set. Brianna Harris also combated the explosive Vikings offense throughout, adding six digs as well to her usual team-leading assist total (she led Scotland once again with 14 assists).
Yet, the Vikings never relented with their multi-pronged attack, and the fourth and deciding set saw Scotland run out of gas as Hoggard continued piling on the points. After hanging with them early, Scotland watched as the Vikings put the set firmly out of reach en route to a 25-15 win.
And with that, Scotland suffered their first (and only) loss of the season, which came in a single-elimination format that effectively ended their 2012. The Scots finished with a 23-1 record.
Though Scotland was overcome with emotion after the loss, the fans in attendance remained standing in the moments following, thanking the Fighting Scots for another exciting championship season with thunderous applause.
While she embraced teammates and coaches that she shared the court with for a final time, Pridgen reflected on this past season as perhaps the most satisfying of her career.
“I’m really glad that the seniors and Coach Barnes got to spend this last season together,” Pridgen said. “This year was by far the best I’ve been a part of at Scotland, and it’s because of how we all came together as one for ourselves and for our coach.”