Less than two weeks into the season, the Salina South volleyball team has found a way to raise its level of play against their biggest rival.
The next step will include finding a way to play at that level every night.
The Cougars are 4-6 after splitting a pair of Ark Valley Chisholm Trail League matches Tuesday night at the South High gym, with two of their four wins coming against Salina Central.
After getting a win in three sets when the teams met last month in Hutchinson, South finished Central in two in the rematch, 25-22, 25-20.
“That was the best we’ve played all year,” said South junior Peyton Froome, who had eight kills against the Mustangs. “I think because of the crowd we had, we know we have to play for them.
“But we also know we can’t just play a few games like that and let up. It’s important to send a message to other teams that we’re there every time.”
“Playing against a crosstown rival is huge,” first-year South coach Rose Wittman said. “But these girls also understand that when you play against their rival, it’s easier to have that energy.
“Volleyball is such a game of momentum. To have the momentum and be able to keep it is huge.”
Both teams opened the night with two-set losses against Derby. The Panthers beat South 25-15, 25-21, then defeated Central 25-21, 25-19.
South never trailed in the opening set with Central, but also couldn’t put the Mustangs away until late. That set was tied four time — the last at 15-all — and Central was still within two after a Annie Ewing kill made it 20-18.
The Mustangs’ fifth service error of the set made it 21-18 and a service ace for South senior Khiley Davis extended the lead to four.
Central was able to get as close as two after a South service error and a kill from Holly Sanderson, but Cougar sophomore Mariah Janda executed a setter dump for set point.
“It’s been that way the whole season,” Central coach Larry Cullins said. “We get in the 20s and haven’t really been blown out, but it’s frustrating.”
“I’m excited for the girls because they played well,” Wittman said. “We made them try to beat us and they didn’t get it done.
“We talked before the game about how we needed to have our runs and limit theirs.”
The Mustangs never had more than three unanswered points in the opening set and trailed 8-6 in the second. An assisted block from Ewing and Lauren Cullins preceded back-to-back kills for Sanderson in the middle, with the second putting Central up 10-9.
“In my head I was thinking that we couldn’t let them get too far ahead or their crowd would really be loud,” Froome said. “We also had to win it in two or … oh man.”
Three of South’s next four points came on kills from Froome. After an ace serve from Jenna Henderson and another setter dump from Janda, the Cougars lead was five points, and a short time later an ace from Reese Altman made it 22-14.
Central had its longest run of the match with four unanswered points, including kills from Ewing and Hampton Williams that cut the deficit in half. A net violation gave South a sideout, before a Kiara Montey kill and a Central attack error closed it out.
“The kids played so well against Central,” Wittman said. “They’re working hard in the gym and giving 110 percent in practice. They believe in themselves.”
“People are giving their all every day and we trust the coaches completely,” Froome said. “This is definitely just the start.”
Froome finished with 11 kills in the two matches, 20 digs and seven assists. Montey had nine kills and Kiley Aldridge had eight, while Janda added 18 assists and Davis had 15 digs.
Sanderson had a team-high 17 kills in Central’s two matches. Capri Myers had four stuff blocks and Ewing finished with three. Sadie Kossow had 14 assist, Lauren Cullins had 12 and Ashley Matthews had seven digs.
“Sanderson played really well and stepped up tonight,” coach Cullins said. “Sanderson and Nash are big hitters, but we need someone to add to that.
“I told the girls we’ll probably look at some position adjustments because we’ve got a lot of young players.”