SALADO — As to be expected with the first volleyball match of a season, the Salado Lady Eagles came out a little bit nervous, with back-to-back hitting errors on offense to fall into a quick hole against the Florence Lady Buffaloes.
It took the steadiness of a freshman to ease Salado’s jitters.
Freshman Reese Rich had seven aces during a 17-point run in the opening set, and the Lady Eagles rode that momentum en route to a 25-5, 25-21, 25-19 victory Tuesday night.
“It was fun,” Rich said. “I didn’t expect it. But, I guess I’ve been working on my serves, but I didn’t expect it to work so well.”
With the set tied at 2, Rich started the run with an ace for the Lady Eagles’ first lead of the match. Six more aces later, along with three kills from Amy Manning and two from Lainey Taylor, Salado was in control.
“We are young,” Salado coach Kristi Wilk said. “For seven of our 12 players, this was their first varsity match ever. So getting on that run allowed them to relax a little bit and just play.”
The run finally ended with a soft kill from Florence’s Abbey Brown, but the Lady Eagles already were up 19-2.
“Reese is so focused,” Wilk said. “She’s level-headed and doesn’t let anything get to her. And she has really matured a lot. It’s nice to have her on the floor not looking like a freshman but looking like a seasoned player.”
Taylor, who led Salado with 11 kills and a block, said the run was vital for the Lady Eagles’ confidence at the service line.
“That was really good,” Taylor said. “We’d been struggling on our serves all weekend, and she just went up there and served half the game.”
The momentum didn’t carry to the second set, though, as Florence — which was led by Hailey Gidden’s three kills — got off to an early lead, and the teams fought point-for-point until the set was tied at 20. From there, a Lady Buffaloes service error, followed by a block by Manning and Kenslee Konarik, and an ace by Darci Pryor gave the Lady Eagles some separation. Taylor closed out the set with a powerful kill.
“She is our most dynamic hitter,” Wilk said of Taylor, a junior. “She was our middle blocker last year and is new to the outside. I think people will be surprised. When she gets her timing down, she is going to be a big hitter. She looks a little better every day.”
With the coronavirus pandemic affecting sports and events across the nation, both Rich and Taylor were glad to finally get the opening match in the books.
“I was really nervous,” Taylor said of the possibility that the season would not begin. “I did not think we would be here.”
Wilk said she knew the girls were concerned about the season, but she never let that possibility be their focus.
“What we did was we never thought about not having a season,” Wilk said. “Everything we did was geared toward, ‘We are going to start no matter what.’ That way they were mentally and physically prepared.”