Pelham defeats Oak Mountain in emotional volleyball match

The match was tough, weird and not fun.

Those were the sentiments expressed by current members of the Pelham High School volleyball program that played under and coached with Hall of Fame coach Tammy Richardson at the school three seasons ago following the Panthers’ win Wednesday night over the Oak Mountain Eagles, Richardson’s new team.

The Eagles put a scare into the Panthers with a 25-21 win in game one before Pelham won the final three games 25-13, 25-20, 25-22.

Pelham senior outside hitter Ally Slaughter, who led the Panthers with 24 kills and 17 digs in the match, said seeing her former coach on the opposing team’s bench left her with an uncomfortable feeling.

“I really can’t describe it,” Slaughter said. “It was tough.”

Pelham senior Lindsey Young, who said Richardson “inspired” her to play the setter position, said the winningest volleyball coach in Pelham history had an important impact on her career. Young led the Panthers (15-1) with 39 assists in the win.

“It was weird seeing her coaching the other team,” Young said. “She really taught me a lot.”

It was also an emotional night for Panthers’ assistant coach Tien Le, who began his high school coaching career an assistant under Richardson at Pelham. Le, who has coached club volleyball with Richardson as well, said Wednesday was the first time the two coaches opposed each other in a game in their volleyball coaching careers.

“It was not fun,” Le said. “It’s just something we have to do, not something we prefer to do.”

While Le didn’t like going against his mentor, he said he’s glad the Panthers performed well in the emotional contest. The game was played in front of an enthusiastic student cheering section at Oak Mountain. The Panthers lost the first game, but Le was proud of how his team rallied to win the final three.

Le thinks the match will be helpful should his team advance to the state tournament at the Pelham Civic Complex in late October.

“I was proud of how we handled things after the first game,” Le said. “I told the girls after the match that tonight is exactly what the state tournament will be like. Hopefully, we will be a lot better prepared.”

Slaughter said she thinks the match opened the eyes of the younger Pelham players.

“It was really important for our girls that are inexperienced,” Slaughter said. “Once we get to state it is completely different.”

Richardson’s Oak Mountain team, led by a strong attack from Samantha Skinner, led throughout in the first game. The Panthers stormed back and never trailed in a 12-point win in the second game. The Eagles cut the Pelham lead to one point late in the third and fourth games before the Panthers’ sealed wins in both games with a late run.

Skinner led the Eagles (15-13) with 13 kills in the match. Lauren Dasher had six kills and four blocks. Rian Imwalle had 23 assists.

Richardson said the flu virus has impacted her team, which forced a lot of Oak Mountain lineup changes during the match.

“I felt like in the first game, Pelham kind of got to know us,” Richardson said. “When I changed the lineup after the first game, we fell apart.”

Richardson said it was also difficult for her to coach against the Panthers, including Slaughter and Young, who helped her final team at Pelham advance to the Elite Eight.

“They were part of the last group I had at Pelham,” said Richardson, who spent 26 years at the school before retiring in 2006. “The kids are just a great bunch of kids. So are the Oak Mountain kids. I absolutely adore them.”