By Alex Byington
Harker Heights Herald
BELTON - Less than a week into the season, the Belton and Salado volleyball teams are still works in progress.
Although one is clearly a little further along than the other.
While senior middle blocker Carling Urben was not much of a factor the first three games, the Lady Eagles came together and held off the host Lady Tigers for a 25-23, 25-15, 21-25, 25-23 victory Tuesday at Tigers Gym.
"It just took a little while for us to get synched, because our team dynamics are so much different this year," Urben said. "It's a good thing, but we also just have to get used to playing with each other."
First-year Salado coach Rachel Lee credited Urben's early ineffectiveness to Belton's defensive approach.
"There were rotations where they had us out of systems a little bit, and when we're out of systems, it's harder for us to force a ball to Carling," Lee said.
Urben still managed to lead the way with three blocks, 11 digs and 14 kills - including five in the decisive Game 4 - while setter Kelsey Palamino added 24 assists.
But it was the 11 kills by junior Sarah Toler - including four in Game 2 - that helped alleviate the Lady Eagles' inability to feed the ball to their heavy hitter.
"That's what needs to happen," Lee said of Toler. "Last night, the role was a bit reversed and I was really hoping she would (step up)."
The load was spread around a little more evenly for Belton (0-2), where sophomore Brieanne Brown led with nine kills, senior Madison McMillan had eight, Torie Henderson added six blocks and Kinsey Williams had 24 digs.
"Tonight I think some girls proved themselves on the court, which is good," Belton coach Justeen Coulson said. "This is exactly what preseason is for - to get all the kinks out - so I'm happier than I was last night, but I think we still have a lot of growing to do."
Aided by Toler's own heavy-handed play, Salado (2-0) took advantage of 18 unforced errors by Belton a 12-3 lead following six straight points, pulling ahead by as much as 11 before a net-serve by Brown sealed the Lady Eagles' Game 2 rout.
Belton's team cohesiveness and on-court inexperience seemed to dissipate in Game 3 though, as the Lady Tigers took a 4-0 advantage and fought through 10 ties before senior Emily Waits iced the game from the backline, scoring three of the final four points on aces.
"I just feel like they got a little more confidence that we can't make our own mistakes, we can't beat ourselves," Coulson said. "Once they figured that out, I think the mistakes - the unforced errors - did kind of slow down."
The loss seemed to finally bring Urben out of her shell, as the 6-foot-2 senior slammed home a kill through two diving Belton defenders for Salado's first point of Game 4. She then added a pair of stuff-blocks and another kill to go ahead 6-4 as the Lady Eagles never trailed before Urben sealed the match with a simple tip-shot.
"We wanted to end it in three - you know we had five games last night (against China Spring) - so we really wanted to just come back and show we could do it in less than five," Urben said.