Thompson downs No. 1 Spain Park in battle top teams

Published 7:59 pm Wednesday, September 15, 2021

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By SETH HAGAN | Special to the Reporter

ALABASTER – The two top volleyball squads in Class 7A—and Shelby County—squared off Tuesday, Sept. 14 as the No. 2 ranked Thompson Warriors welcomed the No. 1 ranked Spain Park Jaguars to Warrior Arena.

The two schools battled for more than two hours in a marathon five-set match, but the Warriors emerged with the 3-2 (25-21, 21-25, 25-15, 17-25, 15-11) win. The victory gives Judy Green her fourth upset of a No. 1 ranked team in her tenure at Thompson.

Thompson (12-6, 1-1) had already faced the Jaguars in the Juanita Boddie Tournament back in late August and were swept 2-0 by the eventual tournament champions.

They were also coming off a gut-wrenching five-set area loss to Hoover, but Green’s Warriors put the losses aside and got back to work.

“I think the most important thing is we got back in the gym and got better,” Green said after the win. “We worked really hard for two days in practice, probably the hardest we’ve worked in a long time. When you play good teams, they expose your weaknesses, and Hoover helped us learn something so tonight we were much better defensively. Tonight we won the serve and pass game and it helped our offense be very successful.”

Spain Park (18-4, 2-0) looked every bit the best team in the state in the beginning jumping—literally and metaphorically—all over the Warriors with an 11-4 run to open the first set.

Senior outside hitter Audrey Rothman was unstoppable at the net scoring four of her team’s first six points, but Briana Wilson and Thompson didn’t back down.

After a 7-2 run from the Warriors to draw within two, the county foes traded shots the rest of the set.

It was Thompson who created separation and outscored the Jags 14-8 the rest of the way as Wilson smashed six kills in the set. Caroline Canaday and Kaitlyn Grant added several more each, while Jada White and Hannah Fincher each served up an ace.

The Jaguars responded well again, running out to a 10-4 lead with Rothman doing more damage at the net in the second set.

Senior middle blocker Olivia Myers also got involved with several blocks and kills. Thompson was again able to even the odds at 18-18 with strong play from Wilson and outside hitter Baylee Southern, but Spain Park took seven of the final 10 points to even the match.

The teams went back and forth in the third set, splitting the first 16 points, but Thompson wrestled the momentum away as the tandem of Wilson and Canaday totaled five kills each.

Up 18-13, the Warriors finished off the set with a 7-2 run to put Spain Park’s back against the wall.

But again, the Jags countered with a big start and finish to a must-win fourth set. Rothman added three more kills in a 5-1 run to start the period and five total with two aces.

The Warriors closed the gap to 18-16 as Southern had another key stretch, but errors led the way to Spain Park’s 7-1 run to win the set.

Thompson was faced with adversity again out of the gate with the Jags getting a 3-0 start to the fifth-set tiebreak, but Canaday was clutch again with three kills and a block to help the Warriors take a 6-5 lead.

“I thought Cricket (Canaday) offensively played the best she’s played all season,” Green said. “We worked a lot yesterday in practice on them managing their game offensively. You can’t just go and wail on it all the time, you’ve got to find a way to score—scoring a point is more important than you hitting it hard. Baylee (Southern) snuck some balls in there through the seam and the block so holistically, it was a great team effort tonight.”

From there, Thompson’s defense took over.

Wilson was particularly effective, digging out several big shots from Spain Park’s front line and giving her offense a chance to score. Thompson’s blockers also had a big set blocking shots and diverting others the Jags sent out of bounds.

“Bri’s defense set the tone for us in the fifth set,” Green said. “We had to work on some relationships on the floor tonight and had to build them in a hotly contested battle. When you’re playing and not being challenged it’s easy to build relationships, this is when you build them: in a tough environment.”

Wilson led Thompson with 20 kills, while Canaday came away with 14. Southern and Grant each added seven.

Spain Park was led by 21 kills from Rothman in the difficult loss.