It was exactly what the Indian River High School volleyball team needed when down 11-10 in the first set: four straight aces from their ace acer, Carly Collins.
“I just serve. That’s what they tell me to do,” said Collins, a junior outside hitter, of her back-to-back-to-back-to-back aces that gave her squad a 14-11 lead and the game’s momentum.
“Carly came in and made a bunch of serves like she should do,” added IR head coach Jim Barnes. “That’s one of the things that Carly does well. She’s one of the best servers on our team.”
In a set that saw seven tie scores before the Collins serving rally, the Indians were able to jump back out in front and stay there, going up 17-13 on two straight aces from senior middle hitter Sami Mumford and eventually taking the first set 25-19.
It was the first win of a complete sweep against the Seahawks on Friday, Sept. 16, as IR went on to take the next two sets 25-14 and 25-20, respectively, for their season’s first win, improving to 1-1 in the Henlopen South after a tough loss against Delmar the previous night.
“This was an extremely important win for us,” said Barnes of the victory on the heels of the 3-1 loss to the Wildcats on Thursday, Sept. 15.
“Delmar was disappointing. We thought we could take that game, and we played our hearts out. We just didn’t get the win.”
The Indians looked even more ready for redemption in the second set against the Seahawks, going up 4-2 on an ace from junior middle hitter Julia Bomhardt and never looking back, managing the 25-14 victory on a set-winning shot from junior Mckenzie Johnson.
Sussex Academy junior middle hitter Lauren Burke put her squad up 1-0 to start the third set as the Seahawks attempted to stay in contention.
But despite a diving dig to potentially save a rally and get the Indians back on track, by senior Shelby Cannatelli, a series of missed shots by both teams gave the game a 6-6 tie, before IR freshman Siera Johnson’s block gave the Indians a 7-6 lead that they would run with, eventually locking in the set, 25-20, and the match, 3-0.
“I think Sussex Academy was fired up for us,” said Barnes after the match. “I knew going in that Sussex Academy was a well-coached team; they work hard. I knew they were going to keep getting better” from last season.
“It took us awhile to wake up, but once we woke up, we were on fire,” Collins added of the match’s momentum. “It really helped that we had a lot of people in the crowd.”
While much of the production came from the upperclassmen, Barnes said he was also impressed by what he saw from the team’s two freshmen: Siera Johnson and libero Jessica Amezuca. Johnson transferred to IR this year, along with her sister Mckenzie, while Amezuca joined the squad from last year’s 8-0 Selbyville Middle School team.
“I think our freshmen play very well,” he said. “Jessica’s filled a big passing void for us, and Sierra — the hits she makes — it is going to be an exciting future to watch those two girls the next four years, along with the other team coming in. It’s a testament to the middle school team.”
Barnes said he was also impressed by what he saw from what they’ve begun to call the “Great Eight,” which includes the full rotation of all eight varsity players.
Rounding out the Great Eight is junior Sarandon Slebodnick, who saw action in the matchup and who Barnes said has made vast improvements since joining the team as a freshman, having never played the sport.
“She played great. That’s a perfect example,” he explained. “There’s a girl that, as a freshman, just started playing, and now she’s playing varsity, getting serves in in pressure situations. That’s where I couldn’t be prouder of the girls.”
While the team’s 1-1 start has been their best since 2013, Barnes also said that there was much room for improvement, and that not only does he want to be able to hang with top-tier volleyball powerhouses like Delmar — who won the South last year and advanced all the way to the second round of the DIAA tournament — eventually, he wants to beat them.
“I think we’re a good team that can be better,” Barnes said. “I am so proud of the girls because they’re playing better than they ever have before, but I’m still pushing them to keep getting better.”
Collins agreed with her coach.
“We’re playing at the level that we think we can play. There’s nothing but room for improvement now,” she said. “We just gotta keep getting better and better. One game at a time. Jump high, hit hard.”
On Tuesday, Sept. 20, the girls fell to 1-2 on the season in a loss in three sets to Cape Henlopen by scores of 25-18, 25-16 and 25-20.
They would be looking to get back to .500 and to holster another division victory when they took on Milford on the road on Thursday, Sept. 22, 5 p.m., (after Coastal Point press time), and will host Maryland’s Worcester Prep at home on Friday, Sept. 23, at 4:30 p.m.