Never quit Wildcats volleyball split on senior night

Lionel Tipton

EL DORADO – By nature, a high school’s Senior Night can be pretty special, but Tuesday night, the El Dorado volleyball team came close to making its celebration even more memorable.

El Dorado dispatched Mulvane in three sets (25-9, 16-25, 25-19) in the opening match of a home triangular. Then, after the eight seniors were recognized, the Wildcats faced a young but very tall Collegiate team.

As with the Mulvane match, El Dorado and Collegiate went three sets before the Spartans put on a late flurry in the third set to prevail, 25-19, 22-25, 25-18.

Collegiate had four girls, 5-foot-10 or taller, and El Dorado had just senior Regan Lattey. Still, the Wildcats hung in with the Spartans and built a lead that reached 16-13 thanks to seven straight points off serves by senior Tori George.

But the Spartans were just too tough and outscored El Dorado 12-2 the rest of the way.

Afterward, El Dorado coach Alyssa Rawlings said Collegiate’s experience from playing club volleyball made a significant difference.

“We don’t have a ton of experience from outside of school season things,” she said. “We worked a lot on skills and things like that.

“Overall, I’m really happy with their performance.”

The Wildcats gave it their all, Rawlings said.

“They fought to the last battle,” she said. “We kind of had a midseason check-in (Monday) at practice, and I thought they did a really good job of taking what we talked about and putting that into play (Tuesday).”

The eight seniors are a very special group, Rawlings said.

“They are my first group of freshmen,” she said. “So they mean a lot to me, and a lot of them I’ve known since they were little-bitty, too – not even through volleyball, but just by being around El Dorado a lot.

“We’ll miss them a lot. They’re a huge part of volleyball – not just volleyball, but just because they’re so involved.”

The opening-match victory was a good one for El Dorado and gives it a 2-0 record against Mulvane going into next Tuesday’s third matchup at Mulvane, a triangular that also includes Winfield.

“We end up playing Mulvane three times in a week and a half,” Rawlings said. “In the past we’ve struggled with Mulvane, because they’re more of a low-energy team sometimes. After (Tuesday night), we’re 2-0 against them, but it’s tough to beat a good team three times.

“We’ve got to take care of business.”

This was a Senior Night, because it was the last true home match. El Dorado will conduct a six-team tournament on Oct. 9, and among the teams participating is Collegiate, so the Wildcats aren’t necessarily finished with the Spartans.

Two years ago, the Wildcats’ Senior Night featured Carly Clennan, who is in her second season at Butler Community College, where she is a critical part of the Grizzlies team that is currently riding a 15-game winning streak and is ranked seventh nationally.

Rawlings said she has enjoyed watching how Butler has done this season.

“It’s fun to watch, because the last time we were nationally ranked was when I was on the team,” she said. “It’s fun to watch them being successful again and just loving volleyball.”

The contrast with Butler is that many of its players come from a club background or were able to specialize in volleyball, Rawlings said.

“At the high school, it’s like the main 25 girls who are doing literally everything (in sports),” she said. “So for them to come and compete as hard as they do is just amazing to me, because they just want to work hard. They look at those girls who have graduated, and they want to fill those shoes, and they want to kind of leave their own mark.”

In addition to Lattey, they are Sydney Burns, Presley Johnson, Madie Clugston, Tori George, Madeline Nichols, Kensie Anders and Vanessa Norbert.

The hard-fought, gritty triangular matches Tuesday are typical of what the team has produced this season, Rawlings said.

“We’ve had lots of close matches,” she said. “(We’ve had) a lot of learning and growing. I’ve been very happy with our performances. I think they’ve done an awesome job of taking what we work on in practice and putting into play in games.”

This has led to some play that has exceeded her expectations, Rawlings said.

“I’ve been very surprised by them, and in a really good way,” she said. “Not that I thought we were going to be bad, but we’re just a lot more competitive in a lot more matches than I had anticipated us being.

“We’re a little bit ‘roller-coastery’ in that we come in and look at teams like Augusta or Circle and think we can’t play with them, then we end up shocking ourselves and come out and play really well.”

Despite a height disadvantage as they had against Collegiate, Rawlings said her team’s cohesiveness can make up for a lot.

“They’re so coachable,” she said. “And I think that makes a difference and they just genuinely love playing with each other. And we come out with more competitive matches and more wins because of that.”