TROY — Slow starts and fast finishes have been the norm for Russia this season. When Southeastern made a push in the first set of a Division IV district final match on Saturday at Troy’s Trojan Activities Center, sophomore outside hitter Ashley Scott said the Raiders weren’t flustered.
“We’ve started off slow before, but once we started communicating more, we started getting our passes up, and the offense fell into place,” Scott said.
Russia finished the first set on a 10-4 run and cruised from there to a 25-18, 25-14, 25-16 victory to claim its second consecutive district title. It’s the first time since the mid-1970’s that the Raiders (20-6) have won consecutive district titles.
“Big accomplishment,” Russia coach Aaron Watkins said. “This was a goal for the girls from the get-go. But now we want to get that next game. That’s the ultimate goal.”
That next game is a regional semifinal on Thursday at Northmont’s Thunderdome against Shelby County Athletic League rival Jackson Center. The two squads split a pair of five-set matches against each other in regular season.
“We’ve got to be really disciplined,” Watkins said. “We’ve really talked about that the last couple of weeks. Do all the little things right, get your serves in, be smart hitting, read hitters well. We just have to put it all together.”
Southeastern (14-12) pulled within 15-14 in the first game, but senior middle hitter Laurissa Poling had a kill to start a 4-0 run that helped Russia put it away.
The teams traded points early in the second game, but Russia pulled out to a 15-11 lead. The Raiders then scored five of the next six to put it away and jumped out to a big lead early in the third.
“They came out with a lot of energy, and we just had to come out and match that,” Watkins said of Southeastern. “We knew they had a great middle, Leslie Flores. We played against them in tournament a couple of years ago and she was great then, so we knew we had to find her. They were young, but they’ve got some good pieces.”
Scott and senior outside hitter middle hitter Morgan Wenrick each led Russia with 10 kills while Poling had nine and senior Samantha Gaerke had six.
Though Russia has relied on several seniors to earn another regional berth, Scott is one of two sophomores that have helped the team earn a return trip. She was third on the team with 153 kills last year as a freshman and is second behind Poling this season with 273.
“It’s very fun,” Scott said of helping the seniors earn another district title. “They really wanted it. Our whole team contributed to helping them get this.”
Now the Raiders will try for a regional victory against Jackson Center. Scott said it will be difficult, especially with two-time Shelby County Athletic League player of the year Raquel Kessler leading Jackson Center’s front line.
“We’re going to have to communicate and work hard in practice until then,” Scott said. “We’re going to have to work on serve receive a lot to get our passes up so we can run our offense well and need to work on blocking to try and block Kessler.”
Sophomore libero Kendall Monnin led Russia with 14 digs on Saturday. She has a team-high 357 this year.
Senior setter Jenna Cordonnier had 32 assists to hit 723 for the season, which breaks the school’s single-season assists record. She also had eight digs.