ELWOOD — The format may have been adjusted due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the results remained largely the same at the 39th Madison County Volleyball Tournament held Saturday at Elwood.
Utilizing a pinpoint defense and passing game and an attacking offense that seemed to come from all angles, the Pendleton Heights Arabians dominated their three opponents in capturing their third straight title.
The Arabians lost just 62 points in the six sets they played in sweeping past Liberty Christian, Frankton and ultimately Madison-Grant in the finals. It was the 17th championship for PH in the history of the tournament and, with a younger team than the two that started the current streak, was made a little more special for head coach Blair Barksdale.
“It does feel really good because last year, losing those six seniors, that a lot of people use the term ‘rebuilding’, and I don’t, but I know a lot of programs go through it,” she said. “I think it’s good to show up and show that we have some good young kids who are going to get better in the offseason. It might be a different team and a different year, but I think we showed that we’re going to be consistent from year to year even when we lose some good kids.”
The Arabians opened the day with a 25-8, 25-4 quarterfinal win over Liberty Christian before dispatching Frankton in the semifinal round 25-13, 25-11. The championship was a rematch from August with Madison-Grant, and the outcome was eerily similar as the Arabians never allowed the Argylls to get into their offense in posting a 25-14, 25-12 sweep of the team who had upset Alexandria in their semifinal.
“They run a faster offense than we do, so we’re behind and we struggle running an offense because we’re just playing catch up from their offense,” M-G coach Kayla Jump said.
While the focus of the Arabians’ offense may be junior Avery Ross, who posted 23 kills in the three matches, there were many others who contributed. Sophomore Hannah Grile led the Arabians in the finals with six kills while junior Gabby Ennis and freshman Mikala Ross added five each.
It has been rewarding for Barksdale to see the young team come together this season while developing chemistry with a first-year varsity setter. Junior Olivia Wright handed out 19 assists in the finals and 58 for the day.
“We can’t just depend on (Avery Ross) outside,” Barksdale said. “We’ve really got to work on that a lot, expanding our offense.”
Led by Ennis’s four, the Arabians put down 12 aces in the final match. That pressure from their service game was important for PH in keeping M-G out of its own offense.
“Both matches of Madison-Grant I watched today, I thought, ‘Man, they are doing really well in serve receive’,” Barksdale said. “But, when we played them, our service pressure was different, and they couldn’t get into system the way they wanted.”
After being a part of two straight championships with strong senior leadership, Avery Ross is now the leader of a young team and is three-for-three in the tournament. This year was made more special for her because they were able to do it with a new core of talent — including Mikala, her freshman sister.
“It felt good. I think everyone came in really fresh and ready to win,” Avery Ross said. “We were ready to play. When she gets a kill, it’s really exciting.”
The defense of the Arabians, led by sophomore libero Ramsey Gary, allowed the Argylls just eight kills in the final match.
“We do a much better job than in my past years here of keeping the ball off the floor,” Barksdale said. “We’re not a great blocking team yet. I think we’ll get there, but that’s not one of our strengths. That means defensively, we just have to make plays. … She brings that mentality back there. She’s relentless.”
Madison-Grant advanced to the finals with a hard-fought quarterfinal win over Lapel (25-13, 20-25, 15-10) and a semifinal win over Alexandria (25-14, 25-21).
For Jump, the solid play of her team in the tournament could build momentum as the Argylls continue through the season.
“We passed the ball very well against Lapel in that first set,” Jump said. “I felt like we had a lot of energy.”
Junior Katie Garringer recorded 10 kills in the Alex win while sophomore Alexis Baney shined in the quarterfinal win with nine kills and three blocks.