By Garth Shanklin
The Bethel-Tate Lady Tigers’ volleyball program is light years ahead of where it was in 2015. All one would have to look at to see that is the team’s effort in their 25-11, 25-16, 26-24 loss to Purcell Marian in their sectional tournament opener on Saturday, Oct. 15.
The match started out rough for the Lady Tigers. Purcell scored the first 10 points and led the first set 13-1. The Tigers would stick with the Lady Cavaliers the rest of the set, but they were out-scored 12-10 en route to the loss.
The second set started better for Bethel-Tate. They trailed 7-6 at one point, but the Lady Cavaliers went on another run to increase their lead to seven at 19-12. Purcell called timeout leading 20-13 and out-scored the Lady Tigers 6-3 over the final nine points to take the win in the second set.
The improvement between the two sets was no surprise to Head Coach James Combs, who said that he saw the team making necessary adjustments between the matches before he even joined the huddle.
“They even said after the set, ‘Hey, we need to talk. We need to move our feet. We have to be on our toes,’ and they did play better in the second set,” Combs said.
The third set was a battle. Bethel-Tate jumped ahead 7-3, only for the Lady Cavaliers to score the next four points and tie it at seven. Bethel-Tate would again surge ahead, holding a 14-9 lead which they would eventually turn into a 17-12 margin, only to see the Lady Cavaliers go on an 8-1 run to take a 20-18 lead.
The Lady Tigers didn’t quit. They fought back to tie the set at 21 and held a 24-23 lead late, only to see their opponents score the final three points in a 26-24 loss.
Combs said the team’s youth throughout the program has him excited for the 2017 season.
“We’re young,” Combs said. “We have 12 freshman, a sophomore and three seniors. Next year, we’re looking for big things.”
The team’s biggest struggle came at the net, where the team’s lack of height made getting the ball over the net difficult at times.
“Our tallest girl is 5 foot 10 inches,” Coombs said. “We have a six-footer coming up from eighth grade next year if she plays. That’s always been our problem, we’ve been short. They’re not afraid, if you tell them to go around the blocker, they’ll go around the blocker.”
The team’s preparation over the summer helped carry them to the improvement from a year ago, where the squad won just two games, both against a winless Ripley squad.
“We had a great summer, they listen and they believe in themselves,” Combs said. “I coached. I taught them. If they made a mistake, I told them. If you teach them and tell them, they’ll improve.”
Another reason the team was able to build themselves up was the way the senior players were able to mentor the younger players on the squad, according to Combs.
“It was a great mixture, because the seniors really looked after the sophomores and the freshman,” Combs said. “On varsity, we had two freshman, three sophomores and three seniors. They got along really well. We never had a problem.”