By Kyle Roberts
A sea of red covered the stands in the Ruston Sports Complex Wednesday evening as Lady Bearcat fans packed the house for the opening round of the 2023 Division I volleyball playoffs.
And fans were not disappointed as Ruston handled Woodlawn-Baton Rouge in a three-set sweep by final scores of 25-21, 25-23, and 25-16.
“First of all, I’m so proud of these girls,” Ruston head coach Mandy Cauley said. “We executed very well. But a huge thank you to the community because there really was a huge crowd difference tonight. The student section was amazing– they actually got into it with cheers and the celebrating and the chants. From the coaching staff, I just want to express our thanks to everybody that showed up to support the girls tonight.”
The Lady Panthers kept the first two sets close, rallying back after the Lady Bearcats took a 19-11 lead to get as close as 23-20. Senior Hannah Rollins’ efforts in the first set with three kills with a block and an assist.
The story was similar in the second set as Ruston had an early lead before Woodlawn rallied back to cut the lead to 23-21. Senior Jade Smith finished with four kills and three blocks in the second set alone.
The final set was all Ruston as the Lady Bearcats cruised to a 25-16 win.
“I think we played very well,” Cauley said about the team’s effort overall. “We were steady, and we were a little bit more offensive. We put the ball down more than they did.We were able to run a good offense to keep our hitters doing what our hitters are capable of doing. And so that was a difference maker tonight.”
Smith would have a monster night on the stat sheet with 12 kills overall along with seven blocks.
“It was a huge night for Jade,” Cauley said. “I think she’s locked in and in the zone. And I think the seniors are, too, and really want this. I feel like we’ve gotten to the point where they believe they’re a good team. And that’s been part of the battle. It’s them thinking that they are not that caliber of team. My mission is to get them to believe that, yes, you are a good team.
“We hung with some of the best teams in the state last weekend and had some successes there. So I think that helped us out and we’re capitalizing on that.”
Ruston will now host the winner of the Mandeville – Benton match in the Ruston Sports Complex Saturday, Nov. 4, at 11 a.m.
“We need everybody to come back for Saturday,” Cauley said. “So we’re going to study, we’re going to practice. We’ll be ready to go on Saturday.”