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Miller and Eagles Survive in Five

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The Springstead Eagles Volleyball team (2-2) won a thriller in five sets over the Hernando Leopards (2-2) on Wednesday night on the road. The Red, White, and Blue came into the matchup with back-to-back losses in their prior outings while the Purple and Gold were sporting a two-game winning streak leading into the showdown. Both squads experienced stretches throughout the night where they were nearly unstoppable before Springstead dug deep and put the final points on the scoreboard. Eagles Head Coach Andrea Gracey likes what she sees from her group and explains some of the challenges they face.

“We were battling some sicknesses,” Coach Gracey said. “So, I would have loved that game to close it out in three… I have a freshman setter coming in to replace Isabella after she graduates next year, so I just want the girls to take the opportunity. You know, at one time, there was five ninth and tenth graders on the court. So, there’s just a lot of potential of these girls. They have fun together, there’s energy. So, we just need to build off that momentum and now execute in those really critical moments.”

Thanks to those critical moments and dominating stretches, the match teetered back and forth as neither team won consecutive sets. The visitors jumped out to a commanding 20-8 lead in the first period, and it seemed the night may pass quicker than expected. During the early onslaught, Senior OH Emily Miller logged kill after kill for the Eagles. After Hernando Junior MH Bailey Poe had cut the deficit to 13-6, Miller scored the next 5 points for the visitors. Suddenly the lead ballooned to 18-7, but Hernando would not back down. Facing this 11-point deficit late in the first frame, the home team outscored the visitors 11-7, with multiple kills and aces coming from Junior OH Kaiya Ward. That evening, Ward appeared to be Hernando’s answer to Miller, but no one quite had an answer for the senior on Wednesday.

“Emily has really been a leader on and off the court for us. Not only in those big plays that we need her, but she balls out. She does not let the ball hit the ground without touching. Today she had a career record with 30 kills, which is huge.”

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The second stanza saw the Leopards leap out to an early 8-3 lead thanks in part to Ward and Springstead miscues. Coach Gracey and company would immediately flip the script and gain a 15-10 advantage midway through. Miller’s record-breaking day continued through this stretch with more kills as the Leopards launched a handful of serves into the net and the Eagles scored 13 straight points. Then the dynamic of the game changed.

Head Coach Robin Bailey’s squad battled back to tighten the score to 22-20 late before a controversial call brought Hernando within one. There was much discussion about whether the ball, which was hit by a Leopard player, landed on or outside the line on Springstead’s side of the court. The ball was ultimately ruled to be on the line and the point was awarded to Hernando. Down 22-21, the home team scored the final four points of the period with Senior S/OPP Madison Guzik responsible for three of those four.

Frames three and four operated much in the same way as the first two. Springstead enjoyed a lead for much of the third and won the set 25-16 with relative comfort. The fourth period was another back-and-forth affair that saw Hernando emerge victorious by a slim 25-23 margin and another late controversial call. This one was ruled in Springstead’s favor. Still, the Leopards battled back from a five-point deficit midway through the match and forced a fifth and final frame.

Springstead would again open a quick 5-1 lead, this time in a shortened period. The Leopards would not go away and clawed back to a 15-14 lead. After a timely Eagles timeout, Miller would come to the rescue one last time with back-to-back scores – the second being a kill that was expertly set up by Senior S Isabella Nunag. Match point saw a hit by Ward sail out of bounds as the visitors burst into exuberant celebration following the hard fought 3-2 victory.

Looking ahead to their next match, the Purple and Gold will aim to bounce back on the road against The Villages Charter Buffalo (2-3) on Thursday. The Eagles will face the Sunlake Seahawks (3-1) in a neutral tournament on Friday. Coach Gracey and company will be looking to stay healthy and to continue developing their youth when they face the Seahawks on Friday morning.

“I think there’s just a lot of mental aspects to the game,” Springstead’s coach said. “I have a young team. So, they are trying to figure it out and have the control in those big moments, slowing the ball down, and executing, and I think it really showed.”

Austyn Szempruch
Austyn Szempruch
Austyn Szempruch is a Graduate with Distinction, University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. He's written numerous articles reporting on Florida Gators football, basketball, and soccer teams; the sports of rugby, basketball, professional baseball, hockey, and the NFL Draft. Prior to Hernando Sun he was a contributor to ESPN, Gainesville, FL and Gator Country Multimedia, Inc. in Gainesville, FL, and Stadium Gale.
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