NICEVILLE — Gathering her team just moments after her seniors bid adieu to the home crowd with a sweep of district foe Crestview on Senior Night, a victory that was punctuated by a 25-9 third-set victory, Niceville volleyball coach Jill Benson didn’t hold back the praise.
“I just told them, ‘That is the best performance I’ve seen in all my career of seniors on Senior Night,’ ” the second-year Eagles coach said. “Usually they struggle because there’s a lot of hoopla, but all four played great and all four contributed.
With their family, friends, classmates and teammates on hand to celebrate their accomplishments with a pregame ceremony, Kayla Carr, Kimy Sarra, Kelsey Roberts and Kelsey Moore went out in style with a 25-20, 25-9, 25-9 victory. And in the process, they extended the Eagles’ win streak to four and moved their District 2-6A record to a perfect 7-0 to accompany a 12-9 overall mark.
Of the win, Carr said “It’s very important. All the seniors got to play at the same time, which is great and we got the win. And it’s especially important coming against Crestview, because originally we thought Crestview would be the killer team. But we came out strong and it was great to hold them under 10 points there a couple of times.”
The sweep stretched the Eagles set count to 21-4 on the year in regular-season league play, which concludes with a trip to Mosley and its 5-1 district mark Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Crestview dropped to 7-7 and 2-4 on the year in the district with matchups against Fort Walton Beach and Mosley looming.
Highlighting the senior play was Carr, who delivered a match-high 10 kills. The 6-foot hitter benefited from the well-placed sets of Portia Rodgers, who paced the Eagles with 14 assists to go along with a team-high five aces, and Ashley Hagood, who earned the approval of Benson with her 10 assists.
“Ashley is getting a lot more comfortable, Benson said. “She’s a very solid kid who has great awareness on the court. She and Portia play well together and to have them both makes it a nice puzzle piece we need.”
Another puzzle piece was the return of a healthy Kayla Henrie, who had three kills and a pair of aces.
“She’s just very steady and adds that consistency to our team,” Benson said.
Thriving off a service game that pounded out 15 aces, the Eagles were as dominant as ever.
But early on, it was the Bulldogs who came out strong.
The defensive front line of Haleigh Hollinhead, Molly Kitchen, Brittany Pase gave Niceville’s big hitters fits in the first set – evidenced by five kill blocks -- en route to a 12-7 lead.
“They did block rather well,” Benson said.
But the Eagles’ sets became crisper as Carr delivered six kills and her teammates combined for two of the set’s four aces to start a 10-2 run and lift Niceville to a 25-20 first-set win.
“I think we just started setting a better game,” Benson said. “We didn’t set very well in the beginning and we just cleaned that up and then we started to excel as we knew were the ball was going.”
The momentum turned into a second-set rout, as the Eagles delivered five more aces and got four of Breana Rodriguez’s eight kills on the way to a 25-9 win.
Then in the third, Moore came through with four assists, Bailey Noon had four kills and Henrie had two of the set’s six aces to lead the Eagles to another 25-9 commanding win.