Thompson volleyball christens new arena with victory

Published 2:37 pm Friday, August 24, 2018

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor 

ALABASTER – With the bright lights of the new Warrior Arena shining down on the Thompson volleyball team on Thursday, Aug. 23, the Warriors stormed the court to take on the Calera Eagles in the historic first-ever competition in the new arena.

The nerves were in the pits of each player’s stomach, the excitement was in the air of the new state-of-the-art facility and the pressure squarely on a Thompson team expected to accomplish major goals this season.

“There was a lot of nerves when we started the match, and I wasn’t surprised. Even my heart was beating really fast during warmups,” head coach Judy Green admitted after the match.

It led to a shaky start, as Calera won the first eight points in Warrior Arena history to jump out to an 8-0 victory, but then Kelsey Tangle changed the narrative.

Tangle scored the first two Thompson points in the arena’s history with a spike followed by an ace. From that point forward, the weight was lifted off of each player’s shoulder and a freeing style of play ensued.

Once loosened up, the Warriors went on to sweep the match in straight sets 3-0 (25-21, 25-10, 25-12).

“It was a matter of just getting comfortable on the court together and playing our style of ball,” Green said. “That took a little while, but I’m glad, because it was an opportunity for us to overcome adversity.”

With the new arena also came a massive crowd, one of the biggest to ever attend a volleyball match in school history, which gave the team a boost once they did get comfortable with each other.

“What a wonderful crowd we had,” Green said thankfully after the match. “Community support, student support, teacher-faculty support. Just an amazing afternoon.”

After falling behind 8-0, those two points by Tangle freed up the Warriors both defensively and offensively, which allowed them to eventually tie the match for the first time at 16-16 after a 16-8 run.

Thompson eventually took its first lead at 21-20 and went on to close out the first set with an emphasis spike from Diamond Gilliland, who went on to have an unbelievable first game.

“There wasn’t any question, confidence wise, that that first set showed they can overcome a major deficit,” Green said. “We just weren’t able to pass the ball early on, so we called a timeout and just talked about being patient with the first contact on our side of the net to make the ball better for the next person who touched it. But it was just so loud in here, that it was hard to communicate early on so we had to get used to that too.”

Tangle started the second set with two aces, before Calera tied it at 3-3 shortly after, but from that point forward, the Eagles couldn’t keep up, in large part Tangle’s serve later in the set and Gilliland’s continued dominance at the net.

“We need to set her the ball more,” Green said of Gilliland. “She has the ability to handle matches if we can handle the first ball and get it inside the 10-foot line,” Green said. “We try to work with our middles from not just the perfect pass or dig, but without it as well so we can get better sets.”

After winning the second set 25-10 to go up 2-0 in the match, the beginning of the third set started much more competitively.

The two teams battled back and forth with Calera taking a 4-1 lead, before Thompson stormed in front 8-7. From that point, however, it was all Thompson thanks a few spikes from none other than Gilliland and a strong service game from Emma Huner.

“We’ve worked a lot on serving and that’s one area we have really improved on since June,” Green said. “We’re going to have to rely on that because we are going to play good teams that know how to handle great serves, so we’ll have to be able to lay some inside the 10-foot line if necessary.”

The Warriors went on a 14-1 run before eventually winning the final set 25-12 to close out match with a strong spike from Molly Willis, who got the final point in the historic win.