Lady Bearcats head to state tournament following heroic senior performances

By Kyle Roberts

Some volleyball kills will be enshrined into legend forever.

Senior Hannah Rollins had hers Saturday in the Ruston Sports Complex, sending the Ruston High Lady Bearcats into a fourth set victory, 27-25, and an entire arena into pandemonium.

The kill also will send Ruston to the Cajundome in Lafayette, La., for the State Volleyball Championships, a first-time feat for the Lady Bearcat volleyball program.

“I just really wanted it as a senior,” Rollins said following an emotional celebration with her teammates and the Bearcat student section. “It just meant the world to me to do this, because we’ve always gone out in the second round. I did not want to repeat it for the fourth time in a row.

“It was a lot of fun, and I wanted it really bad.”

After leading 20-15 in set four, the Ruston Lady Bearcats appeared to be cruising toward a closeout win over Mandeville before the Skippers put together an 9-3 run to take the lead in the set 24-23. Ruston would score four of the last five points, including two of Rollins 12 kills overall for the match win.

“She was the first one I saw in tears,” Ruston head coach Mandy Cauley said about Rollins. “I know that this team means so much to her. And I am proud for all the seniors. I’m proud of the whole team. I had so much senior leadership; I had freshman leadership. It was really awesome.”

Not to be outdone, senior Jade Smith would finish the day with an incredible 19 kills, delivering in key spots throughout the day.

The Lady Bearcats dropped the first set 25-17 before winning three straight: 25-18, 25-18 and 27-25.

The match could not have started anymore poorly for Ruston as Mandeville shot out to a 9-0 lead in the first set.

“We had a slow start; we’ll acknowledge that,” Cauley said. “We knew this game meant a lot, and it just took us a minute. The nerves got the best of us, but then we battled back. And what we did in the second, third and fourth set was amazing. The middles were phenomenal today, but that takes passing and setting.

“I’m just so proud of them and proud of the community. We’re grateful for everybody that came today, and that this meant as much to them as it did to me and my family.”

Now, Ruston will enter uncharted waters as the program prepares for the Cajundome next week.

“I know that it’s an overwhelming situation, and I’ve been talking to them about external factors; the noise, the other schools,” Cauley said. “All of that is different. So one that we’ve already prepared for is that we’re practicing at the Thomas Assembly Center on Sunday so they can practice with different lights and ceiling heights. We’re lucky to have Louisiana Tech allow us to use the facility to prepare for that.”

Rollins added three blocks and a pair of aces, while Smith finished with five blocks. Junior Harper Cauley finished with eight kills, and freshman Baylor Cauley had five kills to go with her 36 assists.

Ruston and Mt. Carmel, the tournament’s No. 2 seed, will faceoff in the opening round of eight next week.

“We’re going to have to get there and battle the nerves and play our game,” Cauley said. “But at this point, we have nothing to lose. The girls have already exceeded expectations, so let’s enjoy it and try to play with joy and make the best memories possible one, two or maybe three more times.”