By Dan Stillwell
Register-Herald Sports Writer
Patty Bryant has had some very good volleyball teams at Independence High School.
But none has been as surprising as this year’s squad, which lost just one game in their quad match Saturday at Coal City.
“I expected this to be a big rebuilding year, but I’m pleasantly surprised,” Bryant said. “We have come a long way.”
The Patriots, now 21-6-2 on the campaign, defeated James Monroe 2-1 (22-25, 25-15, 25-11) and swept Summers County (25-11, 25-15) and Oak Hill (25-19, 25-11).
Independence isn’t tall, other than 6-foot middle Kelsey Hart, but makes up for the lack of size with hustle, skill and — most of all — a desire to win.
“I’ve coached teams with lots of talent, but this team has a lot of heart,” Bryant said. “That will get you a lot of places. They won’t ever give up.”
She saw that in the one loss of the day. James Monroe went up by eight points, but the Patriots hung tough and made it a three-point game at the end.
“I’ve had teams in the past who, if they got down by five or six points, they stop,” Bryant said. “This team doesn’t do that.”
After that, Independence took off. They handily defeated the Mavericks in the next two games and breezed against Summers and Oak Hill.
Hart, a senior playing varsity volleyball for the first time, recorded 20 blocks on the day.
“Kelci is coming off basketball and soccer, and she’s picked up the sport fast,” Bryant said. “I’m happy, happy, happy with her blocking. Her hitting will get better. It’s a timing thing, and it’s coming.”
Hitter Anne Bass was also a force, getting 38 kills, while Skylar Kipps had 14 and setter Brooke Foley had 13. Jenni Perkins had 11 blocks. All four are juniors.
The versatile Bass also had 11 digs.
“Anne is a very strong athlete and has a good vertical,” Bryant said. “She’s quick as a cat. She’s everywhere.”
The rest of the defense was strong as well. Junior Kaitlyn Spencer had 30 digs, while freshman Stephanie Fletcher had 26 and senior Katerina Hardy 19.
Foley was outstanding with her sets, finishing with 53 assists.
“Brooke will chase down any pass she gets. She can make something out of anything,” Bryant said. “She will get it to the hitter.”
A young Summers County team showed a lot of promise, scoring 26 points on Independence and defeating Oak Hill 25-19, 25-21.
The Bobcats started strong with a 25-16 win against much-taller James Monroe, but dropped the next two games 25-18, 25-15.
“James Monroe is a good team, and they made us battle,” coach Kelsey Brewer said. “We’re still working on mental toughness.”
Summers has just two seniors, small but determined middle blocker Haley Shrewsbury and outside hitter Brooke Cole. Sophomore Avery Pivont, the Bobcats’ tallest player at 5-10, both blocked and hit with authority.
State champions in 2010, Summers went through a tough rebuilding season last year, Brewer’s first as head coach. She said she’s not overly concerned with wins and losses in the regular season.
“As long as we’re getting better, it doesn’t matter what the scores are,” the former Wyoming East and Summers County standout said. “We want to make that trip to Charleston (the state tournament) in November.”
Oak Hill had the toughest day of any of the four teams, but took one of three games from James Monroe (25-15, 26-28, 25-22) and lost twice by a total of 10 points to Summers.
The Red Devils had gone through Homecoming Week, with a senior sleepover Thursday and the game and dance Friday.
“It was a struggle today,” coach Ashley Poland said. “They were exhausted coming in. There wasn’t a lot of energy behind them.”
Oak Hill hosts PikeView and Nicholas County Tuesday night, while Independence remains home to face Greater Beckley Christian, Liberty and Shady Spring.
Summers County and James Monroe play Wednesday at PikeView.
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