DIGGING DEEPER

in Volleyball

Clifton volleyball opens the 2020 season on quest to qualify for Class 3A playoffs and snap program’s postseason drought

CLIFTON – Picking up right where they left off last season, the Clifton Lady Cub volleyball team opened the 2020 season with an impressive win to embark on their quest to take their game to the next level.

In their season opener, the Lady Cubs swept the Covington Lady Owls in three games, 25-21, 25-19, 25-19, Monday evening at the Clifton High School Gymnasium. After a hard-fought opening set, the Lady Cubs took control early in game two and three to secure the match.

“We did a good job starting the game and closing the game,” Clifton volleyball’s second-year head coach Paige Poth said. “We are progressing every day, and the girls worked hard from beginning to end.”

In the dominating victory over Covington, the Lady Cubs (1-0) spread the workload around a team filled with young, talented returners from last season’s surprising squad. Despite being forced to cancel the Annual Lady Cub Invitational Tournament this weekend, Clifton will host Hamilton Friday with the junior varsity starting at 5 p.m. followed by the varsity at 6 p.m. in the Clifton High School Gymnasium.

Against the Lady Owls Monday, sophomore Carly Caniford led Clifton with nine kills and six service aces, followed by junior Ava Anderson seven kills and five digs, as well as sophomore Camryn Caniford and freshman Brianna Gonzalez with five kills each, while freshman Kate Humphreys added four kills and two blocks.

In the ball handling categories, junior Kasandra Gaona led the Lady Cubs with 11 digs and 19 service receptions, followed by senior Bailey Ledbetter with eight digs and a team-high 16 assists, and junior Kamryn Zint with six digs and 10 service receptions, while freshman Sydney Fullerton dished out 13 assists.

“I have eight returners from the varsity last year,” Poth said. “My expectations remain the same this year – focus on one point at a time, and one game at a time with a go-getter mentality. The girls have had that since day one, and we can see the success behind it.”

Armed with only two seniors and a host of talented underclassmen in 2019, the Lady Cubs did not realize their dream of making the Class 3A, Division II playoffs for the first time in years. But under the guidance of Poth, the Lady Cubs have laid the foundation for the future.

“Last year, we really set the tone and paved the way to more success this year and the years to come,” Poth said. “We won some big games last year, and the girls were hungry for more. The first day of two-a-days, they were excited to get back in there. And they expected the same mentality they ended with last year from everyone.”

Despite playing in the tough District 17-3A boasting three state-ranked teams throughout the season, the young Clifton volleyball team made their presence known. And when the 2019 season accolades were handed out, the Lady Cubs were recognized for their efforts. Sophomore Ava Anderson led the way by being named to the All-District 17-3A First Team, and junior Bailey Ledbetter earned Honorable Mention recognition.

“The girls had a vision of what they wanted last year, and they have done a wonderful job holding themselves accountable each step of the way,” Poth said. “My returners have carried that vision to this new season, and everyone has joined in.”

Focusing on fundamentals and a strong defense, the Lady Cubs have been forced to navigate around COVID-19 mitigations as they prepared for the 2020 season. But Clifton will have less time and fewer games to develop, already forced to cancel their annual tournament on the first weekend of the season due to UIL restrictions.

“Like last year, defense is always our priority,” Poth said. “And individually we focus on minimizing errors. Any challenges that have been presented, we have been able to move forward.

“Once summer began, it was good to see all the girls back and ready to get back on track and work to get ready for our season. So when August hit, it was like we were just picking up from the summer. I expect to see good things from them this season.”

Photos by DAVID HARDING

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