Last month, Houston Academy’s serving was a major factor against Geneva.
In a rematch between the two volleyball teams on Monday, it was a factor again.
HA’s serving earned 17 aces and kept Geneva’s defense off balance, helping the Class 3A No. 5-ranked Raiders take a 25-16, 25-9, 25-14 win over the Panthers during a tri-match at the Geneva gym.
Following that win, Houston Academy rallied early past 3A seventh-ranked Opp for a 27-25, 25-12 win. Opp beat Geneva in the other match, 25-17, 20-25, 15-12.
The win over Geneva clinched the Class 3A, Area 3 regular-season title for Houston Academy (21-9) and the right to host the area postseason tournament on Oct. 21. The Raiders face Slocomb in the tournament’s opening match, followed by Geneva versus Wicksburg. The two winners meet in the finals and both advance to the South Regional Tournament in Montgomery.
“We are excited to be able to host area again,” Houston Academy head coach Vanessa Howell said. “We will do it (first match) at 2 o’clock and we hope to have a crowd come out and support us, cheering for the girls. It should be a fun day.”
Playing in front of Geneva high school students on Monday, Houston Academy led the majority of the match, sparked by its serving. In addition to earning the 17 aces, the strong, hard serving forced numerous weak Geneva dig efforts, resulting in the Panthers not being able to set up its attacks. Geneva only had only 11 kills in the match.
Ashlyn Conner had eight of the aces, Mattie Havas had three and Caley Caldwell and Caroline Nelson had two each to lead HA, which had six different servers earn at least one in the match.
“Serving was the key as we served tough and didn’t miss as many as we usual do,” Howell said, recalling only two or three missed serves during the match. “The serves were so tough that their (the Panthers) serve receive was a little diminished, so I am proud of the way we served.”
Geneva (18-12) played the match without freshman standout Madison Johnson. Johnson was sidelined late last week with a possible torn labrum.
Prior to a tournament Saturday at Goshen, the Panthers were on a roll with wins in 10 of their previous 11 matches. Since Johnson has been sidelined, Geneva has gone 1-6 with four losses to ranked teams.
“With her out, it is hard because she is energetic, really athletic and a leader,” Geneva head coach Brynn Nix said. “We are dealing with it and I expect us to get better once we have some time to work on some things. We expect to be better by the time we get to area (tournament).
“There are girls who are stepping up, but if we can just get a day to practice where we are not playing a game we could run through some things. We haven’t had that opportunity. We found out about Madison on Friday and we had the Goshen tournament all day Saturday.”
After an early 2-2 tie to start the match, the Raiders scored five of six points to build an 8-3 advantage. Nelson had a couple of kills and Lizzy Kate Skinner had one.
The margin was 13-8 Houston Academy when the Raiders’ serving began to dominate. Havas had an ace and Conner had five during a 9-1 HA run that built the margin to 22-10.
Though the Panthers cut it to eight behind Houston Academy hitting errors, the Raiders were able to finish out the set at 25-16.
A kill by Geneva’s Shelby Hammock that had the Raiders flat footed gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead to start the second set, but the Raiders surged with six straight points, including two aces by Havas and a kill by Conner.
HA built the margin to 15-4 as Conner earned a couple of aces and Caldwell one to help spark an 8-2 run. The Raiders were never threatened after that, eventually winning the set 25-9.
Geneva grabbed the early third set lead, including at 4-2, but the Raiders came back to tie it before surging ahead 12-6 behind five straight points. Two player in the net violations by Geneva and a hitting error out of bounds combined by HA kills from Hewes and Nelson sparked the HA run.
An ace by Abby Caldwell and two kills by Nelson sparked another HA run that increased the lead to 16-8 and after a Panther serve out of bounds, the Raiders added three straight points, one off an ace by Nelson, to go up 20-9.
The Raiders finished it off at 25-14 with the final point coming when an attack by Geneva’s Emma Griffin went out of bounds.
“I thought we played OK, not the best we could have done as it was a little quiet and slow for me, but we did different things and put some of our younger players in and let them get some touches,” said HA’s Howell, referring to getting playing time for five junior varsity players who were called up. “We have a bright future with a lot of talent come up. That was a good game for them to come in and get some touches to get them used to this faster pace game (than JV).”
While losing both matches, Geneva’s Nix said the competition was good for her team.
“I like playing them as they are always a good match, just like Opp, because they gave you something to work for,” Nix said. “My girls were doing really well, but now with this adversity we have to try and find a way to manage around it.”
For HA, Conner had 23 assists, eight aces, four kills and three digs, Nelson had eight kills, two aces, two blocks and three digs and Martin had five kills and six digs. Hewes had four kills and Dykes, Skinner, Havas and Rachel Watson had two kills each. Havas added her three aces.
For Geneva, Chloe Nance had four kills and five assists, Griffin and Hammock both had three kills, while Camryn Sanders had two aces and two digs. Pazley Lamb had three assists and two digs.
Houston rallies versus Opp: The Bobcats came out strong early, leading 10-3 in the first set, but the Raiders gradually rallied to tie it at 22 before winning the opening set 27-25 on consecutive kills by Nelson.
The Raiders kept the momentum going with a 4-0 start in the second set and built the margin to 10-3 before cruising in at 25-12.
Nelson had 10 kills, three aces and six digs, Conner had 22 assists, two aces, three kills and seven digs and Martin had eight kills and 12 digs. Havas had three kills and two blocks and Hewes had two kills and two digs. Caley Caldwell earned nine digs.
Opp downs Geneva: Opp defeated Geneva 25-17, 20-25, 15-12, improving to 20-9 on the season.
For Geneva, Nance had seven kills, six assists and two digs and Lamb had three aces and eight digs. Sanders had five assists and two digs, Hammock five kills and Daydee Holt three aces, two kills and two digs. Griffin had three kills and four digs and Addyson Martin had two digs.