Pearl River starts Year 2 with pair of big wins

Published 8:53 am Monday, January 25, 2021

POPLARVILLE, Miss. — The Pearl River volleyball program found two very different ways to pick up a pair of wins Saturday inside Shivers Gymnasium.

After having to rally from two sets down to top Northwest 3-2 (21-25, 25-27, 25-20, 25-17, 15-8), the second-year program swept Coastal Alabama-East 3-0 (25-21, 25-23, 25-14).

“We were able to use all of our personnel to find out what works and what doesn’t work,” PRCC coach Haley Chatham said. “They really showed out today, fighting for positions. It was a good day.”

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The Wildcats (2-0 overall) opened their season in thrilling fashion, clawing back from an early two-set deficit to defeat Northwest 3-2 (21-25, 25-27, 25-20, 25-17, 15-8).

“The first match of the season with a comeback victory?  I think they were great. I’m proud of every single one of them,” Pearl River coach Haley Chatham said. “I told them that we were going to make some rotation changes to better defend Northwest’s offense and that if we were going to dig out of the hole, it would take better use of our volleyball IQ and a lot of grit.”

The Wildcats nearly claimed the second set, ripping off six straight points to hold a 24-21 lead, but Northwest called a timeout to regroup and ultimately claimed six of the final seven points to pull ahead 2-0.

The Wildcats’ opened the third set with a kill from Diamond Jones (Gonzales, La.; East Ascension).

Tied 9-9, the Wildcats surged ahead 14-9. The run was punctuated by a combo block from Jones and Avery Beth Durdin (Olive Branch; Lewisburg).

The two teams traded points, with a Chloe Paske (Ocean Springs; St. Martin) kill extending PRCC’s lead to 21-14. Northwest mounded a rally, claiming four straight, but the Wildcats held strong to claim four of the final seven points of the set for a 25-20 advantage.

The fourth set was another back-and-forth contest, but it was clear PRCC had found some momentum from the third set. Holding a 5-4 lead, Harleigh LaFontaine (Kiln; Hancock) dove for a ball to keep it alive and Amy Wright (Palm Bay, Fla.; Melbourne Central Catholic) finished off the point. 

After trading points, the Wildcats gained a little breathing room at 16-11 thanks to a kill off of a defender from Hannah Burks (Vancleave) and later a strong-armed kill from Jones courtesy of a LaFontaine cross-court pass.

Once again NWCC (1-1 overall) surged back, but the Wildcats responded with five straight for a 22-15 advantage. 

The Rangers earned the next two points but PRCC closed out the must-win set claiming the next three points. Burks’ attack just inside the back line forced the winner-take-all fifth set.

In the final frame the two sides duked it out until PRCC broke an 8-8 tie. Led with three kills from Jones down the stretch, PRCC claimed the final seven points of the set and took the match.

“Diamond Jones is a jewel — pun intended,” Chatham said. “She brings so much power to our offense and really helped us on this comeback for sure. 

PRCC started strong in the second match, jumping out to a 5-1 advantage on an ace from Burks and pushed their lead to 9-4.

CAE scratched back into the match, trailing 13-9. PRCC extended its lead to 18-9, however the Warhawks immediately responded and made it a match late with seven of eight points to pull within one, 21-20.

The Wildcats closed the door on any late rally attempt by the visitors courtesy of a tandem block from Jones and Durdin.

The Warhawks (0-2) were the aggressor in the second set, taking it to the Wildcats early. Even with the heightened attack the two teams stayed within a couple points of one another until PRCC pulled ahead 13-9. The visitors responded with a four-point run to tie it up 13-13. After trading points, a Leighton Willoughby (Brandon; Northwest Rankin) slam off of a wayward CAE pass and then a quick-set tip from the freshman pushed PRCC ahead 18-16.

The Warhawks hung around but PRCC claimed the final three points to pick up the narrow 25-23 win.

Coastal Alabama-East carried over the late momentum into the third set and built a 5-1 lead. 

Jones and Leah Draine (Mobile, Ala.; Mattie T. Blount) put the team on their backs for a stretch to dig them out of the early hole. An ace from Jones tied the match 7-7 and after trading points PRCC began to put a little distance between itself and the visitor. Burks picked the back corner on a swing down the line to give PRCC a 17-11 advantage. Following a quick point from CAE, the Wildcats went back to work. Pearl River closed the match on an 8-3 run and picked up the sweep courtesy of a Jones ace that just kissed the back line.

Following the match Chatham also highlighted the play of Durdin, who in addition to being a freshman is also learning how to be a setter.

“She is doing a fantastic job. Cognitively, her volleyball IQ is off the charts,” Chatham said. “I knew that about her but I’m really seeing that now. She’s doing great. I’m leaning on her a lot.”

The Wildcats have a busy week ahead. PRCC will host another MACCC newcomer in Itawamba at 5 p.m. Thursday before heading to Pensacola State College in Florida for a two-day tournament. PRCC plays Lake-Sumter State College and St. Johns River State College at 10 a.m. and noon on Friday. The Wildcats then play host PSC and Gulf Coast State College at 2 and 4 p.m. Saturday.