For the first time in 445 days, the College of the Ozarks Lady Bobcat Volleyball team donned their maroon and white jerseys to take the floor for a game. With the fall season postponed due to corona virus concerns, and a very young team, the Lady Bobcats were anxious to get into competition.
The Evangel Crusaders visited Keeter Gymnasium Wednesday night and the Lady Bobcats would show signs of “first game jitters” to start the night. Evangel, who had played a 15 game schedule in the fall, finishing 10-5, had experience on their side. The Crusaders jumped out to an early lead, scoring the first two points of the set. The Lady Cats would tie it 2-2 but Evangel then began to pull away. The Lady Cats couldn’t seem to get into a rhythm and Evangel had all the momentum. Evangel put together a 10-0 run and the Bobcats found themselves in a 14-4 hole. A kill by Ryley Thixton off an assist by Emily Aldridge would break the streak but the Crusaders were well in control. The Lady Bobcats would only manage two more points to close out the set and Evangel took the opener 25-7.
The Lady Cats started slow in the second set as well and quickly found themselves down 9-3. They began to settle in and battled back with three straight points with kills by Abi Menzies, Ryley Thixton, and Amelia Whatley. Midway through the set and the gap had been closed to 12-9. The Lady Bobcats were already seeing marked improvement over set one as they kept pace with the Crusaders the rest of the way. The experience of Evangel, however, would thwart any run mounted by the Lady Bobcats. The Lady Cats would pull within two, 16-14 but could not seem to get the momentum for a substantial run. The Lady Cats would drop the second set 25-19, but had increased the number of rallies from 32 to 44.
The Third set would be the most competitive of the three as C of O seemed to get more comfortable on the floor. Trading points throughout, the score would remain within 3 points from start to finish. The Crusaders continued their trend and used their experience to stop the Lady Bobcat momentum time and time again. Midway through the set, an Amelia Whatley block would go off the hands of the Crusaders and the Lady Cats had cut the Evangel lead to one, 16-15. Evangel would answer with four straight points to increase their lead to five, 20-15. C of O would battle back but could not overcome the experience of the Crusaders. Evangel took set three, 25-19 and the match was concluded.
While the result was not the desired outcome, the Lady Cats saw several bright spots as they competed for the first time in 2021. The competitiveness and defense showed marked improvement in the final two sets. Nerves and jitters turned into desire and enthusiasm from one set to the next. Coach Muckenthaler stated, “I am proud of how our team settled in and competed. Facing a team who had played 15 games was a challenge, but we stepped up and improved throughout the night. We have a young team and we have things we need to work on, but it’s good to be playing and working to get better.”
The Lady Cats were led by Ryley Thixton with 10 kills, Abi Menzies with seven, Austin Morgan with five, and Amelia Whatley with four. Emily Aldridge recorded a game high 24 assists and Mica Chadwell contributed 17 digs.
The Lady Bobcats will be back in action Friday evening at 6:30, as the host Lyon College.