After the majority of other teams had already started the season a week or two earlier, the the members of the Highland High volleyball team had been idly waiting and were raring to finally get the season started on Thursday night.
Highland senior right-side hitter Alyssa Anderson was even more anxious and restless than most because she was going to get her long-awaited shot to be a starter on the varsity squad.
Anderson and her teammates took their pent-up emotions and energy out on visiting Granite City as Highland hammered the Warriors in straight sets, 25-16 and 25-12, at HHS.
“I was really nervous with it being my first varsity match and I was freaking out, but then once we started we started getting into a rhythm, and I got my serves over and I started feeling good,” said Anderson, who greeted the match with eight consecutive points, including three aces, to get the Bulldogs storming out of the starting gate.
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Then in the second game, Anderson turned a two-point deficit into a 10-2 advantage.
“I started getting more excited as we went on and I lost the nerves, which was really good,” said Anderson, who finished with seven aces.
Anderson had plenty of help from her teammates.
In addition to Anderson on the right side, Highland had its talented lineup on full display and it features the following starters: senior middle hitter Hayley McSparin, junior strong-side hitters Alex LaPorta and Madison Wellen, senior setter Sami Beyer and junior libero Sarah Beth Wiegman.
“I think it’s a good start to our season, we’ve been working hard all summer and I think it’s going to pay off this season,” said the 6-foot-2 McSparin, an Alabama recruit who slammed down six kills, five solo blocks and seven aces in her first time getting to serve at the varsity level. “We have a good mix of seniors and juniors on the team. And the younger players have shown a lot of promise.”
LaPorta, who has grown a couple of inches and now stands 6-1 with a stronger frame, led Highland’s offensive attack with nine kills to go along with seven digs, while Wellen produced five kills and two aces.
“We’ve got a lot of good hitters and Hayley McSparin is our biggest one and you can’t get anything over the net when she goes up to block,” Anderson said.
Also leading the Lady Bulldogs in their respective categories were Beyer with 26 setting assists and Wiegman with nine digs.
Highland built commanding leads in both sets due in large part to large service runs from Anderson, McSparin and Wellen.
It was also the first match of the season for Granite, which received three kills apiece from senior Ashley Mae Armbruster and sophomore Morgan Tanksley.
Beyer is excited about her team this season, despite losing talented graduates Olivia LaPorta (Fordham), Brooke Hustedde (Lewis and Clark) and Molly Stumpf (Lewis and Clark).
“I am excited that they’re gone and having success but we have girls that can step right in, and that’s always nice that we can fill those holes quite easily,” Beyer said. “Madison (Wellen) has stepped up and done a great job and Alyssa (Anderson) has stepped up, finally in her first chance as a senior in the starting lineup. So, they’re doing great and those spots have been filled.
“And plus I’ve still still got great hitters in Hayley (McSparin) and Alex (LaPorta), so can’t complain there.”
Beyer is also excited about her bench, which includes strong freshman middle hitter Claire Diercks, who rotates in for McSparin, as well as two backup liberos, freshman Emmy Nyquist and senior Cassie Lamzik.
But after the first match, Beyer knows her team’s service receive needs some work. That was proven by Granite serving up seven aces of its own, with junior Skylar Dippel accounting for five of them.
“We’ve got the passers,” Beyer said. “I think they just get anxious to go do other things, like go and hit the ball. We’ve got to focus on passing first and we will; we will work on it. It is back to the drawing board there; just keep working on it, keep drilling it and we’ll be fine.”
Next up for Highland is hosting Wesclin on Tuesday. Then on Thursday, the Lady Bulldogs travel to Breese Central for their first road match of the season.