The Greenwood volleyball team made the most of its first home state tournament game, beating North Oldham 3-1 (22-25, 25-23, 25-21, 25-14) in Monday’s state tournament opener at Greenwood High School.
Playing a team it beat 3-2 in the final weekend of the regular season, Greenwood (12-6) got off to a slow start before picking up steam and rolling into the quarterfinals for the third straight year.
“I told the girls that was arguably one of the biggest games we’ve had in this gym,” Greenwood coach Allen Whittinghill said. “We’ve had some pretty big games against district opponents and bigger crowds without the corona, but the stakes were super high tonight and I thought we played great. I was super proud of our kids.
“North Oldham is a great program. They were in the final four last year. Great coach, fundamentally sound. To beat them is a great task and I am glad we did.”
In the regular-season meeting, Greenwood had to rally from down 2-0 to beat the Mustangs. North Oldham started strong again in Monday’s rematch, but the Lady Gators’ comeback started a little sooner.
North Oldham took advantage of six Greenwood service errors in the first set, using a 4-1 spurt to close it out and go up 1-0.
Senior libero Sydney Keown said the team came out a little nervous, leading to the unforced errors.
“There was nervous energy,” Keown said. “We were all hyped up. The nervous energy and hype together made us make some dumb mistakes.
“The first set for us was to kind of get the jitters out, but after that we were fine.”
Greenwood scored the first five points in the second set, but North Oldham battled back to go in front 7-6. The lead volleyed back and forth four times before Greenwood scored four of the final five points in the set – including an ace by Keown on set point – to even the match.
“Our battle was to try to not lose those first two like we did last time,” Whittinghill said. “Last time I think we tired them out a bit and I was like, ‘That is not going to happen tonight. They came to play.’”
North Oldham led early in the third set before senior hitter Katie Howard sparked the Greenwood offense. Howard had 10 kills in the set – including on the final two points to give Greenwood the lead and all the momentum.
“When she gets on a roll, sometimes it is scary,” Whittinghill said. “She can put it anywhere she wants. She is good enough to bail you out of some bad situations too. She had an excellent game and it was a lot of fun.”
The Lady Gators never trailed in the final set, using a 10-0 run to build a 13-3 advantage and cruising from there.
Howard led Greenwood with 26 kills and 13 digs. She said playing North Oldham a few weeks earlier helped the Lady Gators adjust to the early deficit and rally back for the win.
“It was nice to be prepared going into our first state game,” Howard said. “They are a great team. We were just trying to pull through. I give all credit to them. They gave us a great match.”
Liz Herman added 10 kills for Greenwood. Meg Gore finished with 53 assists, while Keown had 20 digs.
Greenwood advances to face Henry Clay in the quarterfinals at George Rogers Clark High School at 4 p.m. CST on Friday in another rematch from a regular-season meeting. Henry Clay beat Greenwood 2-0 when the teams met the opening week of the season on Sept. 12.