The Greenwood High School girls’ volleyball team has continued its August momentum into September with a trifecta of wins over Fort Smith Southside, Russellville, and Van Buren. The Lady Bulldogs have now won five consecutive matches after their season-opening loss at Class 6A Fayetteville. The GHS girls are led by Head Coach Jennifer Golden, now in her 20th season at Greenwood.
Three matches were slated for next week, starting with a non-conference tilt at Class 6A Bentonville-West on Monday, followed by league contests at home against Vilonia on Tuesday and a road trip to Siloam Springs on Thursday. But Tuesday’s match has been postponed due to Covid-19 concerns at Vilonia and will be rescheduled later if possible.
Fort Smith Southside
On September 1st the Lady Bulldogs hosted the Lady Mavericks of Fort Smith Southside, their fourth straight Class 6A opponent to open the 2020 season. And while the GHS girls had plenty of offensive weapons at their disposal against Southside, it was the Greenwood defense that helped nail down the victory.
The Sebastian County rivals squared off in H.B. Stewart arena, the home of GHS volleyball this season due to social distancing requirements and the Covid-19 pandemic. The Lady Bulldogs were also missing one of their top players in Caylee Ciesla, out with a concussion. But her teammates covered her absence, especially fellow senior Sami Stilley. Normally a defensive player, Stilley finished the match with nine kill shots.
"Sami played extremely well,” said Coach Golden. “She's been getting it done quite a bit on the back row. [With] Caylee out right now, Sami has stepped up all the way around. I thought she did amazing."
The Lady Bulldogs overcame a somewhat shaky start and rallied from a 2-1 deficit to take the match, winning 17-25, 25-18, 23-25, 25-16, and 15-10 in the decisive fifth match. Greenwood ended the fourth set with a 9-1 run to force a fifth.
Hannah Watkins, Greenwood’s 6-foot-7 senior, then sparked a 3-0 spurt in the fifth set with back-to-back kills to put the Lady Bulldogs ahead 10-6. The Lady Mavericks got no closer than three points the rest of the way, absorbing their first loss of the season.
"I felt like we were prepared,” said Golden. “We've had a good three [previous] matches. I felt like we finally got into a groove and I knew we would be able to give [Southside] a good run. Our mentality was focused and [our] attitudes were right, and that's a lot of the battle right there."
Golden said team defense was key to the victory, but especially serve-receive after her girls struggled in the opening set. "We knew we had to win serve-receive. That was big for us," she said. "I felt like [we] really picked it up the rest of the match. We were adjusting to what we knew was coming over the block, and just getting in the way of the ball and making sure we were getting it up.
"We spread our offense out,” she added. “We know we don't have one person to go to over and over. And when you have that many weapons, you make the block move, defend the pin, and you look for holes in the block, and I felt like we did that really well tonight."
Watkins, senior Larkin Luke, and freshman Myia McCoy led the Greenwood attack with 13 kills each. Sami Stilley added nine, including three in the critical fifth set, and senior Allison Rose added seven kills. Senior setter Anna Johnson dished out a whopping 52 assists, while senior Maddi Pugh had 37 digs to lead both teams. Senior Jocelyn Sewell added five service aces in the match.
Southside head coach Natalie Throneberry credited Greenwood for the win and their overall strong play. "[We] can get upset or [we] can look at Greenwood say, 'Wow, we pushed this team to five [sets].' They are a very tall and talented team. They made adjustments [and] illuminated some of our weaknesses. So now we go back to the drawing board."
A week after their win over Southside, the Lady Bulldogs hosted the Lady Cyclones of Russellville in a match that went four sets, three of which were extremely competitive. Greenwood dropped the opening set, 25-20, then roared back to take the second, 25-7. With the match tied at 1-1, the GHS girls claimed the victory by taking the final two sets, 26-24 and 25-21.
Offensively, ninth-grader Myia McCoy led the team with 14 kill shots at the net, the only Lady Bulldog in double figures. Hannah Watkins and Larkin Luke had six kills each and senior Zoie Dean added five more. Jocelyn Sewell also had four service aces. Larkin and Dean shared the team lead in blocks with seven each.
Sewell also topped the team stats in digs with 20, followed by Madison Pugh with 15, Anna Johnson with 12, and Sami Stilley with 10. Johnson also had 27 of Greenwood’s 31 assists for the match. Pugh had 20 service returns, Stilley 16, while Sewell had 11.
Last Thursday the GHS girls traveled across the Arkansas River to Crawford County to take on new conference rival Van Buren in a match that lasted just three sets. Greenwood took two of those three sets handily sandwiched around a very close second set. The Lady Bulldogs won 25-12, 25-23, and 25-15.
Back from her injury, Caylee Ciesla led the team offensively with 10 kill shots, followed by Hannah Watkins with nine and Larkin Luke and Myia McCoy with eight each. Anna Johnson and Madison Pugh both had two service aces in the match.
Ciesla, Luke, and Watkins all had three blocks apiece, while McCoy and junior Madie Bateman had two blocks each. Pugh led the team in digs with 11 while Jocelyn Sewell had seven. Johnson led the team in assists with 18, followed by sophomore Rylie Holland with six.