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West Forsyth sweeps Chee

Tough Break

POSTED: August 6, 2014 10:00 a.m.
Adam Wynn/Barrow County News

Morgan Vandergriff prepares to serve Tuesday evening in a scrimmage against West Forsyth.

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Coach Joey Alfonso has been working with his volleyball team all summer getting them ready for the rigorous season ahead, which started Tuesday evening with a 0-5 scrimmage loss at home against West Forsyth.

“It was a good learning experience. I think they took something away from it, and that’s what you want to happen with a preseason scrimmage,” Apalachee volleyball coach Joey Alfonso said Tuesday evening. “From that standpoint, I’m pretty pleased.”

Through much of the offseason, especially the late summer practices, the Apalachee Volleycats have been enduring a partial squad with members in the club season and taking part in other tournaments.

The women were hoping to have a full team back for the regular season, but it looks like now they will have to go at least another few weeks without a cornerstone of their scheme.

Starting libero Kerrigan Ellington took a fall during pre-game warm-ups Tuesday evening and looks to have sprained her ankle, although Alfonso was unable to confirm those reports at the time. Either way, Ellington was scratched from the lineup just before the opening set.

“Right off the bat we were scrambling to fill a position we had worked hard to fill already, so that kind of changed a little bit. Gabby Davis, the girl who came in, did a pretty good job filling in for that, but at the same point it kind of throws off your rhythm and timing and everything else you’ve worked on,” Alfonso explained.

“Hopefully Kerrigan Ellington…will bounce back from that and get back in, because she’s definitely worked hard. We’ve given her a lot of reps at that position and we were a lot better with her in that position than having to start right off the bat against a good team with an injury.”

Without Ellington, the Volleycats wound up losing each of their five sets. In the first three sets, Apalachee held tight with a talented West Forsyth team that figures to compete for a state playoff spot out of an extremely difficult Region 6-AAAAAA.

The Cats and the Wolverines traded points to a 25-20 finish in the first set and for West Forsyth’s first of five wins, but Apalachee fought out to a 5-0 lead to start the second set.

For the fifth point, Apalachee brought out an old trick they have used time and time again to steal a point from the competition. While most teams will send the ball over exclusively after three touches, the Wildcats sent a two-touch ball back to the Wolverines to catch them off guard.

Under Alfonso, misdirection has been one of Apalachee’s strengths. The two-touch delivery is just one of many effective tricks they employ, as the Cats will also send a decoy player up to the net to distract their opponents while the actual hitter jumps later.

“When you look at our team and the dynamics right now, one of our things is we want to play a little bit faster,” Alfonso acknowledged. “We’re going to work real hard to control the middle and continue to confuse because if you work the middle with Kiara [Hooks] and Morgan [Vandergriff]…then you feel pretty good about it because they all hit it pretty hard.”

Though these are common strategies in volleyball, the Volleycats rely on them to a greater degree than most teams and thrive in that environment.

West Forsyth stormed back to a 7-4 deficit before Apalachee would again go on a tear and build up a 12-6 lead over the visitors, but the Wolverines would not stay down. They caught up on a four-point rally to make it 12-10 before eventually forcing the Lady Cats to take a timeout at 16-16.

West Forsyth would gain their first lead at 17-16 on some Wildcat confusion, but Apalachee retook their own lead up to 19-18. The Wolverines took one point despite a couple of fantastic saves by Apalachee, largely because their own defense was so stellar.

The rather capable ladies of West Forsyth managed multiple digs per set to get balls up off the ground and back over the net. Though such saves only occasionally resulted in points, they were still a tremendous effort.

“They were a good team and most of the passes on what we attempted,” Alfonso admitted.

The Lady Cats got up 22-20, but West Forsyth eventually reclaimed a 23-23 tie on a fantastic volley by both squads and needed just two more points for the second set win.

In the third set, Apalachee pulled ahead with a 7-1 run after a 7-7 tie to gain their largest lead of the day with a 14-8 six-point deficit over West Forsyth, but the Wolverines once again managed to erase a Volleycat advantage and mounted a 21-22 lead by just chipping away.

According to Alfonso, the reason West Forsyth kept coming back on Apalachee is because his team kept resting at the wrong time.

“We put ourselves in good position, this team just needs to learn how to finish,” Alfonso mentioned. “They need to figure out who’s going to take the lead and make that kill in the end.

“Having the players out there all the time and playing through that fatigue, it’s hard not to make mistakes. We have to play every point like it matters. We have a tendency to rest, and I guess you have to rest somewhere when you’re only playing six. I felt like whenever we got ahead we would rest and let them come back,” Alfonso said.

A large part of why the Volleycats had to rest was because they were playing the same six women all night.

“In the last two matches we got really tired because we don’t sub anybody,” Alfonso explained. “It’s our top six and the libero comes in and helps with the middles. In the last two games I could tell we were dragging.”

West Forsyth would capture another 25-23 win in the third set, which would be enough to win the day, but both coaches agreed to play out the final two sets for extra practice.

Apalachee’s documented issues with depth proved themselves in the final two sets, according to Alfonso, as West Forsyth went on to win both by seven or more points because they had no such struggles with their bench.

“They were able to play like 10 girls and were subbing in on the back row a lot and resting some, and that’s something we don’t have the luxury of being able to do. When we go on a long set like that, our girls are going to have to be conditioned to play better the whole time,” Alfonso said while admitting his own part in the problem.

“I’ll have to get better about using my timeouts and learning where we can rest them at times.”

Through the first three games, Alfonso also noticed some problems that he hopes the team can resolve. Along with his usual concerns regarding poor passing and hit-or-miss defense, the coach also saw some an old foe creep back in.

The Volleycats had too many serves Tuesday night go into the net, which was one issue that he thought the team had worked out by now.

“We didn’t serve well tonight. We thought we dealt with that earlier in the summer, but that’s crept back up on us now and…we had four and five points a game we were giving them serving in the net, and that’s something we can’t do,” Alfonso insisted.

Although Apalachee had their struggles Tuesday night, by all accounts they could have won each of the first three sets. The main reason they were unsuccessful was because of unforced errors.

In the first game, a five-point loss, the Volleycats gave up 13 unforced errors to West Forsyth’s seven. In the second, it was a similar story with 10 unforced errors to their seven still. The third game brought another 13 unforced errors while the Wolverines, like clockwork, had just seven.

“When you’re giving away half the points the other team has to score, and they only have to score 12 or 13 to beat you, then you’d better be pretty good on the flipside,” Alfonso explained. “And we weren’t that tonight, but I thought we did pretty well at a lot of different things, and I thought that was a pretty good team on the other side of the net.”

All was not lost Tuesday night, though, as certain elements of the team seemed to be coming together. For starters, Kiara Hooks looks to be coming into her own as one of the senior leaders for this graduation-depleted program.

Hooks came to Apalachee with limited experience in volleyball from her time at Berkmar, but Alfonso acknowledged that she has grown as an athlete and as a volleyball player in her time with the Volleycats.

“We play a different type of volleyball than they played at Berkmar. With that being said, she’s come a long ways. She is so athletic and to have somebody like that who can cover as much ground as she does and who passes as naturally as she does and to jump as well as she does…her technique is not the best in the world, but she is so athletic that she can get away with it,” Alfonso praised.

“For the most part, she’s starting to own the fact that she’s a pretty good player and I think she’ll emerge as one of those senior leaders that we really need.”

As the team goes, the full roster is now getting better about communicating and letting each other know where they are or where they should be. A silent volleyball team is a failing volleyball team, and Alfonso’s women Tuesday night were loud.

Although a few balls dropped due to missed assignments, most plays worked out because the team talked and shouted productively.

“They did a pretty good job. Considering we had a new person on the floor who hasn’t  been there, that’s tough. I feel like they did a good job. You can’t underestimate what takes place pulling a starter out and putting in somebody else,” Alfonso noticed.

The result of Tuesday’s scrimmage may have been a loss, but Alfonso counts it as at least a partial success in that his team was able to go up against one of the best programs in this part of the state and keep with them for the better part of five sets.

“West Forsyth has a pretty good team. We expect them to be a state playoff team in their area up there in AAAAAA, so all in all I feel like we’re still learning. When you graduate as many as we did…we lost four starters off that team and we’ve grown up and the girls are stepping up and playing, but they’ve also got to learn to be that main player and find that killer instinct in themselves,” Alfonso said.

“We did some good things tonight.”

When former Apalachee coach and current West Forsyth coach Jake Dickey complimented Alfonso, he knew that they were doing something right.

“For me sitting there knowing what we’d lost and to be competitive with a team like that, I was pretty pleased,” Alfonso mentioned. “The girls need to learn how to win with this group and move forward.”

 

Apalachee travels to George Walton Academy Saturday for a play date with potential matches against Prince Avenue Christian School, Loganville, George Walton, Winder and other local talents before coming back home on Aug. 12 to host a match against Rabun and Monroe.

 

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