By JOEL COLEMAN
With her team having finished off a victory over Ackerman on Tuesday, Starkville High volleyball coach Lauren Love couldn't help but breathe a sigh of relief.
Though her Lady Yellowjackets had taken the win in straight sets over the Lady Indians, Love knew her club had just survived a tough battle.
"It seemed we couldn't let down anytime," said Love. "Ackerman really did a great job digging and they had some really tough servers so we had to stay on our toes all three sets. Fortunately, we were able to finish out that third one."
SHS topped Ackerman by scores of 25-13, 25-21 and 29-27 at the Starkville Sportsplex Gym, surviving against a scrappy group of Lady Indians that showed no give.
Though the Lady Jackets (11-6) cruised to a win in the opening set, Ackerman's fight, coupled with struggles on Starkville's part, resulted in a contest that was much tighter than the final scores may have indicated.
"We didn't play our best," said SHS senior Wheeler Richardson. "We played well in the first set, but then in the second, we kind of broke down. No one talked. We didn't really pass. We had a lot of serving and hitting errors. I don't know if we ever really got back into how we were playing in that first set, but (Ackerman) made mistakes and we didn't at the end."
Before the Lady Indians succumbed however, they nearly battled their way back into the match.
Trailing two sets to none, Ackerman (6-4) was behind in the third set 24-22 before fighting back to take a 25-24 advantage.
The Lady Jackets and the Lady Indians then played through the next tension-filled moments that saw the score become tied at 25-all, 26-all and 27-all before SHS finally put Ackerman away.
"That was huge because that would have been a major momentum shift," said Love of capturing the third set. "We've battled with Ackerman a number of times in the past and we know what they are capable of. Fortunately, we were able to get to the winning number first."
Starkville was able to notch the win thanks in large part to the play of Richardson, who had 16 assists and 12 digs to go along with five kills and three aces.
Richardson also received plenty of help in the form of Khristian Carr's seven digs and six kills, Margaret Allison's 10 digs and six kills, and Michaela Mills' nine digs and three kills.
April Reese added six digs, three aces and two kills for SHS.
For all the numbers the Lady Jackets put together however, it was putting away the Lady Indians that satisfied Richardson the most.
"It really said a lot about us," said Richardson. "Last week, we lost the third set against Amory and we lost the first set against Caledonia. I think learning to close things out is what we need to work on, which we did (Tuesday). I think that's going to be good for the rest of the season."
Starkville's campaign continues on Thursday with a trip to Caledonia.
The Lady Jackets and Lady Confederates will start Thursday's action with a 5:30 p.m. junior varsity match with the varsity match immediately following.
When SHS hits the court against Caledonia, Love hopes her club is able to learn from some of the mid-match troubles they encountered at times on Tuesday.
"We try to focus on our communication, our effort and our hustle," said Love. "When we don't have those factors, it's tough to play cohesively. It's tough to play as a team and tough to play our game. We can mention it and we can talk about it and just continue to work on it in practice and in games, but once the girls are between the lines, it's up to them."