In a matchup between two scrappy county rivals, the Houston High School volleyball team won 3-1 Tuesday at Summersville.
Houston cruised to a 25-12 victory in the first set, but the host Lady Wildcats took the second set in overtime, 27-25. The Lady Tigers then prevailed 25-18 in the third set and secured their first win of the 2023 season by taking the fourth set 25-20.
The contest was a showcase of two active, determined squads, with players diving and digging and chasing down balls on both sides of the net, resulting in numerous lengthy rallies. But Houston’s power game, led by senior outside hitter Angie Smith, proved to be the difference.
The Lady Tigers jumped ahead early in the first set and held a 7-3 advantage when Smith boomed a kill to an open spot in the middle of the floor. Houston steadily increased the margin through the rest of the set and led 24-11 after a pair of kills by Smith before winning it on a wide ball.
In the second set, the two teams hooked up in a toe-to-toe battle that featured several lead changes and multiple ties. The Lady Tigers had a chance to put it away after an ace by sophomore Kayla Wagner put them on top 22-21, but Summersville hung tough and took the set when senior middle hitter Kaitlyn Martin sent a perfectly-placed two-handed shot to open space in the back-right corner of the court.
The third set was highlighted by the squads taking turns going on scoring runs.
Houston made the first run, going ahead 5-0 on a block by senior middle hitter Kelsey Pritchett and holding a 6-0 advantage after a mistake by Summersville. The score flip-flopped several times from there, as the Lady Wildcats then scored the next 5 points to close the gap to 6-5, the Lady Tigers regained the momentum and went on top 10-6 and Summersville answered with 4 in a row to make it a 10-10 tie.
The Lady Tigers then scored 5 straight points again and the Lady Wildcats never got closer than 4. Houston eventually built a bit of a cushion and closed out the set with a 4-0 run that included a big point at the net by sophomore middle hitter Kynlee Weaver and another hard-hit kill by Smith.
Summersville came out firing in the fourth set and led 15-11 after an ace by sophomore libero Kaylin Heiney and held a 16-12 advantage when Martin banged a kill.
But the Lady Tigers responded with a decisive 13-4 run capped off by another big point by Weaver and a game-ending kill by senior outside hitter Maddie Holder.
Smith finished with career highs of 26 kills and 19 digs. Multiple other Houston players recorded career highs, including Weaver with 9 kills, junior setter Morgan McKinney with a whopping 24 assists and sophomore libero Gracyn McNiell with 18 digs and 3 aces. The 6-1 Pritchett was once again a defensive force up front and scored on 3 blocks.
After falling to Licking in the season-opener Aug. 29 in Tiger Fieldhouse, the Lady Tigers evened their season record at 1-1.
“I thought we played much more consistently as a whole,” said HHS head coach Julia Sloan. “The second set we kind of got mentally down, but were right there. We just have to play consistently the whole game, but it is a win and we’re glad we got that first one under our belts.
“For game number two, I felt like we made improvements and adjustments from game one.”
Houston (1-1) plays twice at home next week, hosting Plato on Tuesday (Sept. 12) and Conway on Thursday (Sept. 14).
“I think our team has lots of potential,” Smith said. “We have some new fresh feet on the varsity floor and we’re all still trying to figure each other out, but I think once we click we’ll be a tough team to play. We may not be the biggest team, but we’re scrappy and ready to play. We are going to be fun to watch once we work out all our kinks. We’re all a family and have a positive atmosphere but we’re going to keep working hard in the gym and getting better every day.
“We’re getting prepared for districts time and ready to make some noise.”
Houston’s first South Central Association conference game is set for Sept. 19 against Salem in Tiger Fieldhouse.
“I think we’re competitive and all have a love for the sport,” McKinney said. “Because we have only played two games, we have had many practices to improve. We have lots of potential to be the team to beat.”