The Charleston Lady Tigers narrowly escaped an upset Tuesday night in Mansfield by hanging on to win 15-11 in the fifth and deciding set. Charleston (18-3, 11-2) completed their road conference schedule and now heads home for their final game of the regular season versus the Elkins Lady Elks on senior night.
The win solidified Charleston as the conference season runner-up behind Paris. The Lady Tigers will be looking to close out the season at home Thursday night on senior night before going into the weekend and the start of the senior high school district tournament next week.
The Mansfield Lady Tigers were much improved from the team’s previous meeting in Charleston. Mansfield set the tone for the night by winning the first set 26-24. The match went back in fourth with Charleston winning the second set 25-18. Mansfield won the third set 25-16, and Charleston, with their backs against the wall, won the fourth set 25-14 to force a deciding fifth set. Charleston won a very competitive fifth set by the score of 15-11. The match was over and Charleston had survived an inspiring Mansfield effort on the road.
After the grueling match that did not end until after 9 p.m., Charleston coach Ryan Rachuy reflected on the number of games the Lady Tigers have played in the past week. “Since Monday of last week, in eight days, we played four regular matches, and five tournament games. So, essentially, we have played a match a day for the past eight days. That would be the equivalent. I had a purpose in doing it that way, because this is a time of year where you’ve got to gut check. Now, I’ve got to get my girls some rest. But, I also have to keep them at the top of their game. Tonight, we had a lot of errors and we had a lot of looking at other girls to who we could pin some of our mistakes on, and after a little bit it got to where the girls decided that’s not what’s going to do it. What’s going to get this done is going out there and getting the job done. And they did. I don’t know how many kills Brooke Wright (Mansfield) had tonight, but it was a lot. It was pretty sloppy on both sides of the net. When you have those kinds of games it is imperative that you take a deep breath, and you prepare yourself mentally. I am hoping that we can use this as a mental toughness exercise because when you get pushed, and they pushed us, there were instances where they served well, they set smartly, they hustled their rear ends off to get the balls, and they did. They did an excellent job in doing so. When you’re playing a team like that and they are scrapping for every point, you had better start scrapping too. You had better start getting after every point. They defended Jadyn Womack as good as anybody has all season.”
Mansfield appears to be peaking just at the right team as all teams are preparing to begin the conference tournament. Mansfield will be in a group of teams that will be fighting for a state tournament birth next week at the district tournament in West Fork. Mansfield, Waldron, and Booneville appear to be a group that will be challenging Charleston for a playoff birth. If Mansfield plays in the tournament with the focus and effort that it did Tuesday night, the Red Lady Tigers will be a big factor in the tournament.
Volleyball coaches in district 3A-1 will meet today to decide the district tournament format and other post season information. We should know today the times and dates of games for the tournament. Charleston should get an idea of who their first round opponent will be next week. No matter who the opponent will turn out to be, it is clear that Coach Rachuy must find a way to address the mistakes that have plagued the team not only last night, but since the West Fork match in Charleston. Additionally, it is very obvious to those who have been following the team that Charleston needs rest before they enter tournament week. Getting in the needed work and still finding a way to get needed rest will be very important to Charleston’s success next week.
The junior high district tournament will be held this Saturday in Paris. Information on the playing times and opponents for the tournament will also be released later today. The junior high regular season will conclude on Thursday, and the tournament will be played on a single day this Saturday. Teams around the district will contemplate moving freshmen up to senior high rosters for post season play after the junior district tournament. Fortifying rosters for needed depth, to address injury situations, or possibly to move a freshman up who can contribute to the senior high team at tournament time is a question that a lot of teams around the district will consider after Saturday. For teams such as Mansfield and Paris who have strong junior high teams, this is an option that could strengthen their senior high teams and could make them more competitive at tournament time. It remains to be seen what teams will move up freshmen. We will all know next week.
The Charleston Lady Tigers will face another obstacle or distraction Thursday night on senior night. The program will honor a great group of seniors who have led the team to 18 wins so far on the season. For Charleston, they must be able use the night as a way to finish their season strong and give their seniors a great memory of playing well in their final home game of their careers. If they do so, they can end the season on a successful note, and then turn their attentions to tournament play.
The seniors on this team have been a very special group. Coach Ryan Rachuy asked them earlier in the season about how they would like to be honored. He gave them the option of being presented with a shiny new volleyball for each senior that could be used as an autograph ball. But then he had the idea of using actual game and practice balls that had been used throughout the season as a symbol of their hard work that each had invested in the team throughout the season and their entire time at Charleston. The team very quickly chose the latter, and on Thursday night, among the other tokens of appreciation that will be presented to the seniors, each will receive a dirty, beat-up, volleyball that each senior has pounded and used for many hours in practice and during games. It will be a symbol of how hard they have worked and for the thanks and gratitude from the coaching staff and the community for their contributions to the program.
It should be a very special night. If you want to see the senior night ceremony, I recommend that you arrive at the gymnasium around 4:30 p.m. I hope that the fans in Charleston will turn out in large numbers to honor this very special group of seniors who have helped build the program, and, who knows, could take it to even higher heights over the the next two weeks.