KINGWOOD – After a bit of an uneven start to the season, the Preston volleyball team has started to make some obvious progress under first-year head coach Jill Huggins, with a heavy assist from strength and conditioning coach Calvin Moore, and on Wednesday, the Knights had a chance to climb up to .500 in the Big 10 Conference when they hosted Grafton.
Perhaps it’s a fresh start, or an improved fitness level, or some solid team chemistry, but whatever it is, the Knights brought a winning combination of confidence and communication as they swept the Bearcats 3-0 (25-10, 25-18, 25-15).
The two teams started set one fairly even until, holding a narrow 11-10 lead, PHS junior Cameryn Sypolt stepped to the service line. With sharp precision, Sypolt proceeded to find the holes and exploit weaknesses in the Grafton (0-4, 0-3 in the Big 10) service return alignment to force service winners or scrambling offensive sets as the PHS points mounted. Even two separate GHS timeouts could not stem the momentum, as the Knights rattled off 14 straight points to close out the first set.
Set two followed a similar script, as the Bearcats hung with Preston (3-5, 3-3) until the midway point of the set. At 11-11, PHS again burst out to a commanding 20-13 lead, but this time, behind some strong middle-hitting and blocking from Kenna Keener, Grafton battled back to get to 22-18. However, the Knights ran their offense efficiently for three straight points to take Set 2.
In the final set, after a quick Bearcats start, the Knights again maintained a higher level of play in the middle section and had built an 18-13 lead when Sypolt again took control. Six straight excellent serves, six straight PHS points, and even though she served long on match point, the Knight took care of their business shortly thereafter, 25-15.
“Coach Huggins always preaches that serving is all about confidence and concentration,” Sypolt smiled after the win, “and I was hitting my spots pretty well tonight. We played them twice before this year, so we knew where we wanted to serve, and all of our servers were on tonight. We worked well as a team (Thursday) and communicated pretty well for the most part. It was a good win.”
“I liked the way we stayed in the moment, and finished off each set with energy and intensity,” she explained. “We always need to improve our passing and consistency – that is never good enough for any team, and is always something to work on – but I especially liked that we hit more and more as the night went on.
“Giving up free balls because you don’t want to make mistakes is not what we want,” she continued. “Hit, hit, hit, even if you go long or short or get blocked. It’s the best way to improve, and we’re showing progress every, practice game, and I liked what I saw tonight.”
In the JV match, the Bearcats swept PHS 2-0 (25-15, 25-16).
The Knights host a crucial Conference tri-match with Elkins and North Marion tonight, set to start at 6:00 p.m.
BY MARK SCHRAF