GLIMPSE OF THE SUMMIT

in Volleyball

Despite taking steps in the right direction, Meridian Lady Jackets ousted from Class 2A volleyball playoffs by top-ranked Crawford Lady Pirates in Bi-District matchup

VALLEY MILLS – In a season that produced marked improvement for the Meridian Lady Jacket volleyball program, the Lady Jackets got a glimpse of the summit, witnessing firsthand just how far they have to go to compete among Class 2A’s best in the state.

Facing the Class 2A’s top-ranked and defending state champion Crawford Lady Pirates in a Bi-District playoff matchup Monday in Valley Mills, the Lady Jackets were ousted from the postseason tournament in decisive fashion as the Lady Pirates swept Meridian, 25-0, 25-2, 25-8.

“Last night was a tough loss,” Meridian volleyball first-year head coach Lauren Cartwright said. “Going into the game, we had a realistic perspective. When you play the No. 1 seed in the state as a second-year program, you have to approach the game from a different perspective. Our team developed goals for each set to focus on for motivation and success in their own way.”

Crawford senior McKenna Post pounded the Lady Jackets with 16 service aces, while senior Katie Warden smashed seven kills to lead the Lady Pirates (38-6) past the first round of the playoffs.

“I’m proud of our girls for the tenacity they showed last night and throughout the season,” Cartwright said. “We wish the very best to Crawford as they continue their post-season journey and head to state playoffs.”

Qualifying for the Class 2A postseason for the second straight season after rebooting the volleyball program in 2020, the Meridian Lady Jackets took the next step in re-establishing its program to past glory in 2021. Wrapping up the District 11-2A regular season Oct. 23, the Lady Jackets (3-9 in district, 6-18 overall) snapped a five-match losing streak to knock off the Bluff Dale Lady Bobcats for the second time this season, 25-17, 25-19, 22-25, 25-17, and secure a spot in the Class 2A playoffs.

“I am beyond proud of our girls,” Meridian volleyball first-year head coach Lauren Cartwright said. “They have overcome so much this season. We have heard comments from other teams about their vast improvement, even the officials are impressed with all they have learned and been able to accomplish in such a short time.”

But for the young and inexperienced Lady Jacket squad, it wasn’t easy along the way.

Before losing to playoff-bound Tolar in straight sets last Tuesday to close out the regyular season, Meridian honored the seniors prior to the Three Way rematch at Yellowjacket Gymnasium Oct. 12. The Lady Jackets split the first two sets with Three Way before coming up just short in the third and ultimately succumbing to the Lady Indians in four, 25-17, 20-25, 25-23, 25-15. In the process, Three Way avenged a heartbreaking five-set loss to the Lady Jackets in the first round of district. Then on Oct. 16, the playoff-bound Hico Lady Tigers swept past the Lady Jackets, 25-10, 25-15, 25-16.

“Moving forward, our focus is finish strong,” Cartwright said. “We began our season, eager to play and students came with a competitive nature we hadn’t seen in our program before. Winning three scrimmages straight out of the gate was a huge confidence booster and proved to the girls they are capable of more than they realize.”

Opening 2021 with a new head coach, the Meridian volleyball program embarked on its second season since rebooting the sport following a 41-year hiatus.

Although the Lady Jackets own a long history of playing volleyball, the program was initially dropped following the 1973-74 school year. Meridian reinstated volleyball for the 1978-79 school year, but promptly dropped it again the following season. Prior to the 2020 season, MISD athletic director Wade Morton and MISD superintendent Kim Edwards locked in and decided to bring volleyball back.

“This season has been one of incredible growth,” Cartwright said. “We started the year with some players who couldn’t serve, players who had never hit a volleyball. And for others, it was their first year in high school athletics. Both our junior varsity and varsity teams worked hard throughout the season to place the “We” before the “Me” each and every day.

“As we look to the season ahead, I am hopeful that we will continue to grow and come back even stronger next year. At the end of the day, it’s about more than one sport or one team, it’s about being a Meridian Lady Jacket.”

Photos by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS

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