In a battle of first-year coaches and city bragging rights, the Buchholz volleyball team defeated The Rock School on the road on Tuesday night in five sets.
The Bobcats (8-5) built an early 1-0 lead but then had to hold off a furious rally to win 25-17, 23-25, 25-13, 22-25, 15-11 in front of an energized home crowd.
“It was a tough one,” said first-year Buchholz coach Joe Lamagno. “Both teams put great effort in. We had a couple of bounces go our way. We’ve been working on being consistent, especially in crunch time, and the last three serves that Autumn hit were amazing. That’s crunch time.”
In the fifth set, with the match on the line and a 12-11 lead, junior Autumn James served three straight aces to lift the Bobcats to their second straight five-set win.
“It’s funny because she and my libero (Hailey McLaughlin) are battling for who’s going to be No. 1 in aces,” Lamagno said. It’s either Hailey or Autumn, and I love that kind of battle.”
James finished the night with nine aces.
She began the final set with an ace before going on her own personal 3-0 run with the game-winner clipping the net but landing on the other side.
“I just read the court to see where they were kind of empty at,” James said. “And the last one I just kind of served it hard.”
The win offset a big performance by the Lions (6-3) super sophomore, Natasha Kidd, who finished with a season-high 25 kills.
In the second set, the Lions rallied from a 13-5 deficit to get back into the game.
Sophomore Kamdyn Swilley (nine kills) gave her team a 24-22 lead and Kidd added the final point on her fifth kill of the set.
“At first it was very shaky,” said The Rock’s first-year head coach Tiana Stacy. “But I do think with time they’re going to come out stronger from this. I had to tell them to look outside of themselves and not be selfish with each other. Overall, I’m proud with how they performed. We played for each other.”
Junior Jordan Czaplewski led the way for the Bobcats, including six kills in the opening set.
However, Kidd had five kills and an ace in the decisive fifth set and almost single-handily led the Lions back.
“Natasha is the go-getter,” Stacy said. “She is a beast. She has her moments when she gets a little razzled but as long as you can help her stay calm she will outperform anybody in the gym.”
Both programs are trying to navigate their way with new coaches and several underclassmen.
The Rock only has one senior on its roster.
“I don’t care about losing, obviously all coaches want to win, but I’m looking to develop people and not just the athlete,” Stacy said. “I look for them coming together and that right there (Tuesday’s rally) is what I’m most proud of. We try really hard to encourage them to be better for each other.”
Buchholz, made up mostly of juniors, will travel to Jacksonville on Friday and Saturday to participate in the River City Classic (five matches) before returning home to face Trinity Catholic (Ocala) next Tuesday.
“To me, we’re progressing,” said Lamagno, who moved down from Kentucky in June and took over for Bailey Coleman, who is now the head coach at Santa Fe College. “We’re getting better. Don’t get me wrong, we have some weak spots. We have a lot of things we need to work on like over pass kills. They’re free kills. But we’re definitely taking some steps in the right direction.”