If you serve and serve receive well in volleyball, the chances are high that you are going to win the overall battle.
Houston Academy had both going pretty strong Monday against Northside Methodist in the first ever volleyball contest between the two northwest Dothan programs.
Behind 32 digs from seven different players and 20 aces from six players, the Raiders downed the Knights in a competitive three-set contest at the NMA campus, 25-19, 25-18, 25-21.
Houston Academy, which has played a grueling schedule, improved to 13-14, while Northside Methodist, in its first year in the Alabama High School Athletic Association, dropped to 10-8.
The match was moved up to Monday from its original Oct. 13 date after the AHSAA last week placed area tournaments on that day.
“This was really great to come here and play them,” Houston Academy coach Vanessa Howell said. “We have been waiting for this for a little while. They are a great team.
“I know several of the (Northside Methodist) girls from Deep South (Volleyball Club) and I have coached some of them, so it was really fun to come here and watch them play. They are a good team and they did a great job (against us). It is good to know we have another team in Dothan to compete against and be competitive against.”
Though her team lost, Northside Methodist coach Terri Dennis was upbeat about how her team competed against the Raiders.
“For the most part, I was happy with the way the girls played,” Dennis said. “We knew we had to be aggressive to play with them and the girls came out with that mindset. The first two sets, especially the first set, we served well and overall I was pleased with how we competed.
“A lot of these girls (on the teams) have played together in club volleyball and with Vanessa in travel ball, so it was fun to get to play team. It was competitive.”
Houston Academy’s Mattie Havas, best known for her hard hitting on the front row, showed she has a pretty strong serve as well on Monday. The senior delivered eight aces and had three crucial stages of fierce serving that played a role in the HA win.
She closed out the final four points of the opening set, taking a 21-19 lead to the final 25-19, added a strong serve in the second set to help the Raiders cut a 15-9 deficit to 15-13 then helped HA break it open in the third set, taking an 11-10 lead to 15-10.
“When Mattie’s serve is on, we usually score a lot of points (in a row),” Howell said. “She usually serves until she misses (out of bounds). Her serve is so powerful, it is hard to pass off.
"When her serve is on, she gets on those runs (of points). When she is on, which she was on several occasions, it is fantastic. It is hard to pass off that hard serve because it comes directly at it and some of them drop. She has both. She tends to keep teams off balance.”
In addition to Havas’ eight aces, Bailey Dykes earned four aces, while Caley Caldwell and Carryne Chancey had two each. Abby Caldwell and Lizzy Kate Skinner added one ace each.
The Raiders also did the job defensively as Caley Caldwell had 13 digs, Abby Caldwell eight, Havas four, Dykes three and Chancey two to lead the way. Tamira Henexson and Mary Suzan Aman added one each.
“I thought our serve receive and our serving was really good,” Howell said.
HA’s hitting wasn’t shabby either as Havas earned seven kills, Henexson six, Skinner five and Dykes four. Rachel Watson added three and Aman two. Abby Caldwell delivered 24 assists and Chancey added two assists.
Dennis said the Knights couldn’t adjust to HA’s off-speed hitting.
“Picking up the off-speed hits to the center of the court (hurt us),” Dennis said. “That is the first time this season we have seen that consistently like that. It was that off-speed where we didn’t do a good job of reading where she (the hitter) was going.”
For NMA, senior standout Elizabeth Helms had nine kills, two aces and five digs, Ellie Williams had two aces, eight assists and five digs. Kailyn McMahen had six of the Knights’ 12 blocks in the match and added three aces and two kills. Mary Dennis had five digs and two kills and Vanessa Davis three kills and three blocks. Cameron Garland had nine digs and Kaden Williams two blocks.
After a 3-3 tie to start the match, Houston Academy surged ahead 8-3 during Caley Caldwell’s service rotation. A Skinner block, a Havas kill and an ace by Caldwell sparked the run.
The Knights battled back to tie it at 8-8 during McMahen’s serve. A kill by Helms and an ace from McMahen highlighted the NMA surge.
McMahen served out of bounds long to put HA up 9-8 and the Raiders would maintain the lead the rest of the set, though the Knights stayed close, cutting the deficit to one five times before Havas’ late first-set surge helped the Raiders pull away to the 25-19 win. A kill by Dykes off an assist from Abby Caldwell finished it.
Northside Methodist built a 15-9 lead midway in the second set, taking advantage of HA hitting errors and defensive miscommunication to score five straight.
After a serve out of bounds by Ellie Williams, HA, in Havas’ service rotation cut the margin to 15-13. A Henexson kill off an Abby Caldwell assist and a Havas ace keyed the run.
After an exchange of points, a kill by Helms off an Ellie Williams set and a Raider hitting error gave the Knights an 18-14 lead.
The Raiders answered with eight straight points, most during a Dykes service rotation, to overtake NMA. Dykes had two aces and Abby Caldwell and Watson had a kill each during the stretch.
A block by NMA’s Davis stopped the run, but HA rattled off three straight points after that to finish the set with a 25-19 win. A Chancey ace ended the spurt.
The third set was tight early on with the teams trading points, leading to nine ties up to 10-10. Havas then helped HA gain control, serving on five straight points, including four aces, to put the Raiders up 15-10. A Skinner tip kill was also part of the run.
The Knights, though, kept battling back, cutting the margin to one several times before tying it at 21.
Houston Academy, like it did in the first two sets, finished strong. A strong hit by Jaylee Strickland resulted in a Knight dig effort going out of bounds before Abby Caldwell followed with an ace and delivered an assist for a Skinner kill to make it 24-21.
Havas then ended it with a kill to the left side of the court after receiving a pass.
For Northside Methodist, its inaugural season in the AHSAA has been a successful one, said Dennis, whose team is not eligible for postseason. NMA has five matches left in its season.
“I feel good about the switch (from AISA to AHSAA),” Dennis said. “The (lack of) travel has been wonderful. It is so nice not to have to travel back from Montgomery, Auburn or Smiths Station.
"It has been fun competing against teams locally. Just about every time we have played, the girls have known players on the other team. It has been competitive. We have hung in and played well with every team that we have met this year.”
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