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West Hall volleyball sweeps tri-match, winning close one over Gainesville
West Hall's Tonya Bennett attempts to block a spike Thursday from Lanier's Jaylen Cruz during a game at West Hall High School. - photo by SARA GUEVARA | The Times

The West Hall Lady Spartans volleyball team left their tri-match with Gainesville and Lanier with two victories, no losses and a lot of respect for the Lady Red Elephants.

After both West Hall (22-2, 7-1 8-AAA) and Gainesville (16-7, 4-2 8-AAA) easily dispatched of Lanier in their opening matches (25-13, 25-23 for Gainesville, 25-13 and 25-20 for West Hall), the Lady Spartans outlasted Gainesville in an exciting three-game showdown.

West Hall lost the first game 25-20 before winning the final two, 25-18 and 25-21.

“They’ve got all those new kids,” West Hall coach Joe Nelson said of Gainesville. “It’s made them better, and it’s probably going to make us better, too. I think the whole area is better overall this year, and whoever comes out of it is probably going to go pretty well in the state tournament.”

Gainesville fell behind early in both the first and second games, but was able to rally and take the lead each time.

After falling behind 8-3, the Lady Red Elephants rallied for five consecutive points, ultimately outscoring West Hall 15-3 to take an 18-11 lead, before the Lady Spartans were able to regain some momentum.

Many of Gainesville’s points came on simple errors that could have been avoided, Nelson said.

“Our biggest issue is serve-receive,” he said. “Even with a little soft serve, we were having issues with that. And the team will tell you that.

“I’ve got several people working with me to try to improve on that.”

The second game began in similar fashion. West Hall opened an early lead before Gainesville went on a long rally.

After falling behind 8-4, the Lady Red Elephants scored 10 straight points, erupting to a 14-8 lead, before West Hall was able to score again. It wasn’t until Gainesville led 18-13 that the Lady Spartans mounted their comeback.

They scored nine consecutive points, including one on a long volley that tied the game at 18. They finished the game winning 17 of the final 21 points, and won an evenly-matched final 25-21.

Leaders for West Hall on the day were Tanya Bennett (11 kills), LeNiesha Kearse (10 digs and 3 blocks), Kelsi Jones (3 blocks and 9 aces) and Laykin Herford (30 assists). Gainesville was led by Tiarra Hill (9 kills), Daphne Ragone (37 digs) and Kaylin Walden (26 assists).

Gainesville coach Randi Orr said that, despite the loss, she was pleased with how her team, down two starters due to an injury and a prior school engagement, played against such a talented opponent.

“For us to play, minus our two starting players, and to win the first game — that says a lot,” she said. “We play them again Tuesday; we’re ready for Tuesday.”

And can they win next time with the help of their starters?

“Yes,” Orr said confidently.

Stephanie Rowland, who finished with 10 kills in her two matches, however, said that she thought her team should have been able to win in two games if not for its own mistakes.

“I feel like we shouldn’t have even had a game down,” she said. “I feel like we should have beaten them in two. But, you know, you make mistakes.”

“And you learn from them,” Nelson interjected.

And, according to Nelson, that’s the plan for the continued success of his team.

“I was going to give them the day off tomorrow,” he said with a smile. “Uh, uh. We’re going to be out here again tomorrow.

“These girls want to be out here. They’re dedicated and want to continue getting better.”

The two will get a chance to play each other again on Tuesday when Gainesville hosts West Hall and Monroe Area in a tri-match.

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