Andover Central’s volleyball players were hoping to get through Tuesday night without facing Maize South’s Jody Larson, a 6-foot-1 outside hitter who verbally committed to the University of Oklahoma nearly a year ago.
But after two weeks of nursing an inflamed hip and pelvis, Larson decided to make her comeback at Andover Central’s triangular.
“She walks into the gym,” Tyner said, “and you’re just like, ‘dang.’”
But this is a different Andover Central team that was dominated by Larson and the Mustangs in straight sets last month. Heck, it’s a different Central team from last week. The Jaguars cruised to a 25-19, 25-21 victory over Maize South, and followed that with a 25-14, 25-21 victory over Goddard Eisenhower.
Larson remained the focal point of the Mustangs’ offense. But the Jaguars stood up to her, unlike when the teams met earlier this season, according to Meg Huelskamp, Central’s 5-7 middle hitter.
“The first time we played them, it was almost shell shock if we got a block against her,” Huelskamp said. “This time, we felt a lot more confident knowing her (tendencies) were. … We decided we were going to read her blocks the way her arm swung. But honestly, it was our (back row) tonight that dug up balls. It was amazing. We had a couple really good blocks on her, but you’ve got to give it to the defense.
“When you see a player like (Larson), obviously you admire her. There’s a factor of intimidation, but that just makes you want to play harder. The win was that much sweeter to get it against her.”
The Jaguars have won seven of eight matches, improving their record to 10-8.
“Sounds a lot better than 3-7,” Tyner said. “Our middles, Katie (Kretchmar) and Meg, all of a sudden decided they needed to be aggressive and put the ball down. Miranda Leibold, coming back from an injury, made a huge difference. Jasmine Nazaran does everything she can to help us win. … It seems like all of a sudden everything’s clicked. We’re moving and we’re talking and when we do that, it makes a world of difference.”
In the other match, Maize South defeated Eisenhower 25-16, 25-23.
Still, it’s been a trying season for the Mustangs, who have battled injuries, inexperience and a tough schedule. They’re 7-5 and have already lost more matches than they did all of last season, when they went 38-4.
“We were better against Eisenhower,” said Maize coach Teri Larson, mother of the Mustangs’ star. “But Andover Central has improved so much since we played them last. We aced them a ton last time. They hit a million balls out. Tonight, their hitting efficiency improved. Our net violations killed us. We were the ones making mistakes.”