Cass volleyball coach Alan Potter seemed more worried about how his team would handle the off-court hoopla that surrounds senior night than his team's opponents, Pickens and Woodland.
The Colonels, though, impressed their coach, handling the situation "surprisingly well." Cass opened Thursday's tri-match with a 25-19, 25-11 victory over Pickens and closed out the night with a 25-9, 25-23 triumph against Woodland.
It was actually the three-setter in between, which the Wildcats won 25-21, 20-25, 15-11, that helped the Colonels the most against their Bartow County rival. The longer-than-usual break allowed Potter's players to rest up and come out strong, leading to the dominant opening set.
"The biggest advantage was having the senior night festivities and having another match to rest, and they did," Potter said. "They didn't run around like they have in the past. They were ready to play Woodland and excited to play them."
It showed, as Cass turned a 12-7 set into a rout. Madison Philpott anchored the run with five aces in an eight-point span. She added a kill late, and Makina Gorham's ace ended the set.
To its credit, Woodland started much better in the second set. A beautifully worked possession with Carolina Gore passing to Macey Vaughn and Vaughn setting up Gore for a kill — her fourth of the set — gave the Wildcats a 20-13 lead.
Cass called a timeout, and Potter's speech helped his team get back in the set.
"I just kept telling them that Woodland wasn't really beating us," Potter said. "No offense to Woodland, because they're a good team and coach [David] Condon does a wonderful job with them, we were making the mistakes. ...
"I think we've done a great job getting better at the big picture items. We move the ball around well, we hit the ball well. It's just the small things that tend to get us — serving in the net, hitting the ball out of bounds when we don't have to."
The Colonels went on a 9-2 run to even the score with another ace by Gorham evening things up at 22-22. Back-to-back kills by Blaire Waters and Keegan Krause provided the winning points for Cass. Waters finished with seven kills, three digs, two blocks and an ace, while Krause added six kills and an ace.
It was a frustrating end to the evening for Woodland after the Wildcats outlasted Pickens in the middle of Thursday's three matches.
Woodland held a four- to five-point edge for most of the opening set. Pickens, though, narrowed things to 22-20 late. The Wildcats weathered the storm, and Noelle Dickey's left-handed spike gave Woodland a one-set lead advantage.
Pickens evened things up in the second set to force a first-to-15 third set.
After a quiet first set, Gore had started to come up big in the second set and carried that over into the decisive one. She had four kills in the third set and eight in the match. Her final one gave Woodland the victory.
Vaughn also starred in the match, finishing with nine assists, six digs and two kills. Emmaline Payne, one of two Woodland seniors along with Dickey, added nine digs, two kills and an ace.
Despite the victory, Woodland came out flat against Cass, which defeated the Wildcats twice Saturday during the Bartow County Volleyball Championships. However, the Colonels also deserve credit for maintaing focus and taking advantage of their opportunities.
"That kind of helps you with your confidence, knowing that you can win or maybe even should win," Potter said of having won the two prior meetings.
It also helped Cass' confidence to earn a two-set win over Pickens to start the day.
Waters dominated early with two kills and an ace within the first eight points. Alexis Ware and Krause each added two kills in the opening set. Gorham closed things out with aces on two of the final three points to cap a 4-0 run to end the set.
Philpott, who had 13 assists and a kill in the match helped get Cass going with a diverse attack. She spread the ball around early, as Ware had three kills, Krause had two and Waters had one before the halfway point of the set.
Ware became the unquestioned star of the set, though. She had five kills, three digs and a whopping seven consecutive aces to finish off the match. Ware, one of five Cass seniors, accounted for the final nine points of the match and totaled seven aces, six kills and four digs in the win.
Even with Thursday's wins, Potter said he's not satisfied with his team's performance. Are the Colonels trending in the right direction? Yes, but they haven't reached the level their coach is looking for ... yet.
"It's all coming together, and I think the girls are a lot more comfortable with each other than even last weekend," Potter said. "We're working on the right things in practice, we're going in the right direction and we're gaining confidence. We're playing much better, but we still have a long ways to go."