Lady Bulldogs continue to improve, despite loss to Belgrade

Thursday, September 27, 2018
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Photo by Andrew Turck

Hardin defensive specialist Shaunita Nomee celebrates with her teammates Saturday afternoon after the Lady Bulldogs score a shot on Belgrade’s Lady Panthers.

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Photo by Andrew Turck
            Mariah Simmons, middle hitter for Hardin’s Lady Bulldogs, tips the ball over the net Saturday afternoon during a home game with Belgrade’s Lady Panthers.

Hardin’s Lady Bulldogs started out strong in a Saturday afternoon home volleyball game against Belgrade’s Lady Panthers, quickly running up an 8-4 lead in the first set, and bringing a spirit of good cheer to their crowd and players. Then, Belgrade picked up the pace, tying the score at 8-8 as Hardin struggled to follow.

Belgrade’s libero Bailey Christensen was especially tough on the Ladies, striking 18 of the Panthers’ 37 kills. She often was prepared for shots with help from Belgrade setter Jaiden Blakely, who was responsible for 25 of her team’s 32 assists.

“They have a couple really good outside hitters [with] a really strong arm swing,” Hardin Head Coach Tiffany Lynch said of the Panthers, ranked second in Class A. “They hit the ball well, they play good defense, they kind of do everything well. They’re very consistent.”

Consistency, she said last week, is something the Ladies have been honing through “upping the intensity in practice” so they can play at an effective level without dips in defensive and offensive abilities. Currently, Hardin is ranked sixth in Class A.

As an example of their work in practice gaining results, Lynch mentioned setter Natalie Edgar and middle hitter Mariah Simmons, who – to keep pace with players such as Christensen and Blakely – had become “more comfortable” in their set-strike killing combo. Serves also had improved, she continued.

Simmons scored the most kills for Hardin at 10 of 19 total, while Edgar set up all 18 of the Ladies’ assists.

Team libero Katie Murdock added that right hitter Alyssa Pretty Weasel, a new player to the varsity team, has improved significantly in “getting to the block line” on time. Blocks were the one area where Hardin beat Belgrade in stats, with five to their four.

The Ladies eventually would fall to the Panthers in a three-set loss, though the game was not without its high points for Hardin, most prominently shown – scorewise – in the first set.

Belgrade had taken off, doubling Hardin’s score 10-20 before the Ladies dug in with an effective defense and accurate kill shots. The Panthers scored one more point when the Ladies hit Point 12. Belgrade wouldn’t score again until Hardin had reached Point

18. The teams tied 23-23 as the home crowd cheered.

Unfortunately for the Ladies, the Panthers hit the next two shots to win the first set 23-25. From there, Lynch said, her team chose to fall apart rather than continue with the momentum it acquired.

Despite a brief period near the beginning of the second set where the ball was heavily contested, Hardin seemed to drop out by the time the score hit 3-6. Where the team’s dives and strikes had produced dividends before, now the timing and accuracy were off. The second set’s final score was 7-25.

“We were slow, both mentally and physically,” Murdock said. “In the first set, I feel like we were more determined. In the second set, I feel like we [decided], ‘Oh, they just beat us.’ I feel we thought they were better than us.”

“We let those girls get a couple good swings on us, then we would drop off,” Lynch added.

The third set wasn’t quite to the standard the Ladies had established in the latter half of the first, but it was a marked improvement over the second. Movement was faster, and sets and shots more accurate. The teams tied at 2-2, then 3-3, then 4-4, then 6-6.

But, as with the first two sets, Hardin fell behind. With 14-22 on the scoreboard, the team took a page from the first set and dug in, holding the Panthers to two points while they scored another four. They couldn’t keep Belgrade’s last point at bay, however, and lost the final set 18-25.

Future matches against the Panthers, Murdock said, are in need of more “energy” and “fun” if Hardin is to defeat Belgrade. The Ladies also have relied “to a fault” on middle hitters, Lynch added, so they’ll be working more with the outside hitters next.

Despite the team’s string of three losses over the past two weeks, Murdock is optimistic about the Ladies’ potential moving forward in the season. In her views, she reflected a comment by Lynch in late August when the coach said “it’s already the best year we’ve had.”

“Last year, I feel we definitely plateaued,” Murdock said. “This year, we’re just getting better and better.”

Of the Ladies’ 42 total digs, Murdock and outside hitter Nicole Green led the team with 15 and 10 respectively. Of their five blocks, Green and Edgar each deflected two. Finally, from the serving line, Green hit the most aces for the team with two of five total.

This Saturday, the Ladies will play an away game against the Miles City Cowgirls.