After a slow start to the season, the Darlington volleyball team has gained some momentum at the right time.
A group of eight seniors has taken the lead for the Lady Tigers and helped the squad win four of their last six matches. The team closed out the regular season Thursday night at home by getting a swift victory over Coahulla Creek before falling to Calhoun.
Darlington head coach Jared Willerson said the impact the seniors have had on the team has allowed them to play at a higher level as they get ready to begin next week’s Area 6-AA/A Private tournament as the No. 5 seed.
“It’s huge,” Willerson said. “They’re leaders. They’ve been in this program for a long time. They’ve got it back to where we can be competitive, and that’s been the whole goal. They’ve done a good job.”
The Lady Tigers (15-21) opened the season with seven straight losses before earning their first win — a two-set victory over Gordon Central — but Willerson said once the season got going they were able to come together and start seeing some success.
“We had a rough start, but a lot of that is due to when school starts for us,” Willerson said. “It’s just different. We don’t get a chance to really gel as a team. We have to do that while we’re playing real games. We tend to do better toward the end of the year. These girls have bought in and they stayed through those tough two weeks, and they’ve played really well.”
Darlington defeated the Lady Colts 25-9, 25-4 in the Huffman Center on Thursday. The victory was followed by the honoring of seniors Lucy Bearden, Megan Kligora, Makiya Mayes, Kate Monroe, Emily Prusakowski, Dani Sims, Anne Scott Smith and Abbie Vaughn.
The Lady Tigers worked their way through a rough start in the first set against Coahulla Creek but then took control behind the serving of Henni Richert. The junior middle hitter closed out the set with a run of 14 straight service points that included six aces.
The second set was more of the same for Darlington as Kligora opened with 11 straight service points, including five aces, giving the Lady Tigers the needed momentum to cruise to the win.
“Megan Kligora is probably our best all-around player,” Willerson said. “She can do everything. She’s a great hitter. She’s a great passer. She’s a great server. She’s does a really good job.”
Willerson also highlighted Bearden, Smith and Mayes, who he said have worked hard at multiple and new positions in their game plan. He was also impressed by Monroe and Vaughn by their ability to overcome injuries and get back on the court.
Prusakowski and Sims haven’t been able to play this season, but Willerson said their presence is still much-needed by their teammates.
“It’s been nice to have their energy and support around the program,” Willerson said. “I appreciate them sticking with it even though they haven’t been able to play.”
Darlington’s area tournament kicks off Monday at Mount Paran Christian, and the Lady Tigers will open play against No. 3 seed North Cobb Christian.
Walker and Mount Paran are the top two seeds, respectively, with Mount Bethel Christian taking the fourth seed. Christian Heritage is the No. 6 seed, and Whitefield Academy is the No. 7 seed. The top four teams at the end of the tournament advance to the GHSA state playoffs.