Ace Nation: Spartans find their footing in 4-1 victory

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) On Thursday, the Athens Bulldogs hosted rivals Alexander Spartans in a TVC-Ohio match-up. This was the long-awaited rematch of their 5-set epic earlier in the season that Alexander won. No matter the time, place, or even sport, an Athens and Alexander is always an entertaining matchup as one of the premier rivalries in Southeast Ohio. But this matchup had more than reputation on the line. Whoever won this game would come out with the second place spot in the TVC-Ohio. Both teams, knowing the stakes, were ready to play. 

This match started out hot as both teams played with fire and determination. A pair of Lexi Grissett kills for Alexander were answered by Athens when middle hitter Caitlyn Hayes picked up a kill and block in back-to-back points. Midway through the first set, the Spartans pulled away taking a seemingly comfortable 5-point lead. But this would be erased as the Bulldog defense, led by Libero Alexa Reed, who locked in and opened their attack. A defensive scrap persisted for the remainder of the set. Athens prevailed and won 25-22.  

High school girls' volleyball: Athens Bulldogs bench celebrates a point
Bulldogs’ bench celebrates a point

The second set was the closest and most tense of the night. Athens and Alexander were consistently within 3 points of each other. The Bulldogs’ front row spearheaded by Caitlyn Hayes and Rylee Toadvine took the lead 20-17 forcing a critical timeout for the Spartans. At this point, the momentum was on Athens’ side. If the Bulldogs closed the set out, the Spartans would be down 2-0 in enemy territory putting them in a hole that would be tough to climb out from. After the timeout, Lexi Grissett picked up a kill.  

“I really let [Lexi] know that we’re riding on her shoulders,” said Alexander Coach Jamie Lutz when speaking about the timeout. “Was a little concerned on how she would accept the criticism and first ball is a kill.” 

That kill marked a turning point in the game and Alexander rallied against the momentum to win the second set 25-23. Afterwards, control of the match would be the Spartans’ and it would not switch hands again. The energy from set two carried into the third. Alexander continued their excellent form starting the set 7-2. Grissett caught fire, accumulating eight kills in the set three. After two long, tight sets, the third ended 25-12, Alexander.  

The Spartans closed out the match in the fourth and final set. While the front row played very well, the main reason Alexander came out of Athens with a win was because of their defense. Any time the Bulldogs had an opportunity to get a big kill to shift momentum, the Spartan defense would neutralize their attack refusing to let anything touch the floor. Chief among them being Macie Swart and Trista Johnson.  

“I think I played really well,” said Trista when asked about her defensive performance. “I’ve been really working on chalking the ball on serve-receive and getting in my position for defense.” 

After a strong start from Athens, Alexander pulled away to complete the season sweep of their bitter rivals. The Bulldogs will look to bounce back with on Monday with a trip of Eastern before finishing conference play against Vinton County and Nelsonville-York. As for Alexander, the Spartans will close out their season against Nelsonville-York and Meigs next week.