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Two months ago, the Ackerman volleyball team started the season by winning the small varsity division of the Set It Off Challenge in Ridgeland.
It was just a precursor of things to come.
The Lady Indians (16-6, 4-0) were on their way to clinching their third straight Division I, Region 3 championship, a title that carries them into their first-round home playoff match today against St. Andrew's.
"We've had some ups and downs, we've had some kids who have gotten hurt, but everybody is back healthy now," said Ackerman head coach Amanda Carden. "We've just come together and have done a really good job here lately."
Carden credits much of Ackerman's cohesiveness to strong, veteran leadership. According to Carden, seniors Andrea Cutts and Carmen Long have been instrumental as leaders both on and off the court to this point in 2010.
Cutts, an outside hitter/middle blocker, leads the Lady Indians in kills (221), aces (40), and digs (143) coming into today's matchup with the Lady Saints.
Cutts' performances were recently honored by the American Volleyball Coaches Association, who selected her Mississippi's Player of the Week for August 30-September 6.
In that time frame, Cutts played in six games and notched 18 kills, 11 aces, and 16 digs.
Long has had a solid campaign for Carden's Lady Indians as well. Also an outside hitter/middle blocker, Long leads Ackerman in blocks with 42 and is second to Cutts in kills with 169.
Adding to the contributions of Cutts and Long are fellow senior Tatiana Fair, as well as junior setter Sarah Bowles who has compiled a team-high 186 assists this year.
"(Bowles) has improved so much," said Carden. "She improved a lot last year, but she has really come a long way this year and looks really good."
Bolstering Ackerman's playoff run was a pair of volleyball newcomers, sophomores Bridgett Robinson and Nikki Ford.
"They were already good athletes," said Carden. "But with the leadership we have on this team, they have kind of guided (Robinson and Ford) in the right direction."
Carden hopes her team's many contributors can keep things rolling today against a St. Andrew's team that the Lady Indians have already beaten once this season.
On August 6, Ackerman defeated the Lady Saints in straight sets (25-10, 25-19) during a best-of-three match in the aforementioned Set It Off Challenge.
It is a win that has established confidence for the Lady Indians ahead of today's 5 p.m. rematch, but no one on Carden's team is taking St. Andrew's lightly.
"I'm sure (St. Andrew's) has improved quite a bit since then," said Carden. "I feel like if we play to our capability, we have a good chance to win. The kids have pointed out themselves that (the earlier win) doesn't matter. They know that nothing really matters now except what we do (today)."