Lady Dawgs fight through setback to sweep Shoemaker
By TJ MAXWELL
Injuries are part of sports, but the loss of 2017 Defensive Player of the Year Kristen Wasiak on Saturday had Copperas Cove head volleyball coach Cari Lowery scrambling for a game plan against a competitive Shoemaker squad on Tuesday.
“It was just 10 minutes into warmups (on Saturday),” said Lowery. “She either dove for the ball or had her hand facing down. Christina hit at her and it rammed her little finger on her left hand into the ground and broke it in three spots.
“She’s probably done but we don’t know. She may be back in four weeks but she’s done for now, so we had to change everything yesterday.”
Senior defensive specialist Aviyon Wilborn donned the libero no. 24 jersey and helped the Lady Dawgs keep their hopes of a district championship alive with a 3-0 (25-8, 25-15, 25-16) Tuesday night at Bulldawg Gymnasium.
“She did a great job,” Lowery said of Wilborn. “She was all calm, cool and collected. She was laser-focused and did a good job with receiving. With Kristen, it’s not just about the defense. We’ve been doing a two-man receive all year so that’s half of our serve-receive out, so we had to change all of the serve-receive. That was the biggest issue. We had some different formations out here tonight. We’re still a work in progress on that but I thought Leah (Powell) and Aviyon did a great job receiving tonight.
Wilborn had 21 of Cove’s 36 serve receptions and she was second in digs with 19. The junior Powell had 22 to lead the squad. Junior Janice Fa’aola chipped in to the back-row defense with seven digs.
“I thought they did great,” said Lowery. “Aviyon has not played middle back since she was a sophomore and Janice is playing all the way around and she has not done that since she was a freshman probably. I thought they did great. I’m proud of them. Shoemaker took Belton to four Friday night, so I thought we did good. I’m happy with it.”
The Lady Dawgs came out firing with three-consecutive kills by senior Aidan Chace and Jada Close to jump out to a 3-0 lead.
Cove maintained that edge until a 6-1 run by the Lady Dawgs opened up a 13-5 Cove lead over the Lady Grey Wolves. Kills by Powell and senior Christina Pettigrew, along with the first kill for varsity newcomer junior Sam Ingram, highlighted the run.
Kills by Shoemaker’s Nayeli Foreman and Emijah Spencer slowed the Cove run until three-consecutive kills by Fa’aola kick-started a 12-0 run to close the set 25-8. Kills by Close, Chace and Fa’aola ended the run and the set.
The Lady Dawgs again started hot in the second set, taking a 6-1 lead on attacks by Close and Powell and an ace by Fa’aola.
Cove errors allowed the Lady Wolves to inch into the set at 7-5, but a kill by Pettigrew and a block by Chace swung the momentum back to Cove for a 12-3 run to push their lead to 19-8. A pair of attacks by Pettigrew and Close bounced off the block attempts of Shoemaker and kills by Fa’aola and Chace led the way. Kills by Fa’aola, Chace and Powell, along with another Close block, made it a 22-12 Cove lead before a pair of kills by Shoemaker’s Alexia Wilkinson delayed the inevitable in the 25-15 set-two win.
The Lady Wolves showed fight in the final set. After falling behid 4-1, the Lady Wolves embarked on an 8-5 run to knot the set at 9-all. Kills by Cherith Hicks a strong defensive rally led the way for the Lady Wolves.
After ties at 10 and 11, the Lady Dawgs began to pull away toward victory with seven kills in the next 12 points to take a 20-14 lead. Five of those kills came from Powell with Chace and Pettigrew collecting the other two.
A dump by Ingram made it a 21-15 contest before kills by Pettigrew, Close and Fa’aola closed out the set 25-16 and match 3-0 for the Lady Dawgs.
Senior Kamryn Ash set up the Cove offense with a game-high 32 assists and Chace added 11 more. Fa’aola led in kills with 12 followed by Chace (10), Powell (8) and Close (7). Powell and Fa’aola also had two aces each to lead the squad.
Chace added nine digs to Wilborn and Powell’s 41 combined digs. Close, Fa’aola and Pettigrew each had three blocks each to lead the Lady Dawgs.
The Lady Dawgs (35-2, 10-1 in District 12-6A) host Waco High tonight with a 5:30 p.m. first serve before they hit the road to face Harker Heights on Tuesday in Killeen.
The junior varsity and freshman squads also earned sweeps. The JV beat Shoemaker 25-8, 25-8 and the Freshman Gold squad won 25-12, 25-11.
The Lady Dawgs will then travel to Waco to take on Midway in a match likely to determine the District 12-6A champion.
Lowery contemplated bringing up another defender to help replace Wasiak but wants to see more first.
“We may do that, but Sam was something I decided to do prior to Kristen getting hurt,” Lowery said of her decision to promote Ingram to varsity. “That wasn’t because of Kristen. We need more offense, more blocks and more options on that front row. I know it seems like we have a lot of options, but I need more options.”
The injury is a big hit, but Lowery is confident in her team’s ability to fight through adversity.
“When you play one way for 40 games, basically, and then everything’s different is tough,” she said. “But these kids are coachable, they are positive, and they are not going to let something stop their goals for the year. Everybody is just going to step up and do their job and then some.”