Coach Stephanie Coates beamed as she addressed her Tivy volleyball players after their match against Fredericksburg on Tuesday night. Inside the victorious locker room at Antler Gym, Tivy’s first-year coach felt validated.

“This is why I came here,” Coates gushed to her players.

This isn’t Coates’ first stint at Tivy. She coached the Lady Antlers from 2002-03. She’s achieved success at other schools, and has coached plenty of talented kids during her career. But she acknowledged that there’s just something special about coaching Tivy players…..

“That Tivy Fight Never Dies is something special,” said Coates, referring to Tivy’s official school motto.

She knows she witnessed TFND during Tivy’s five-set (21-25, 23-25, 25-15, 25-15, 15-11) season-opening win over Fredericksburg. The Lady Antlers entered the rivalry match with only four returning varsity players. That inexperience was evident early, as Fredericksburg cruised to victories in the first two sets. It seemed to be the perfect recipe for a season-opening loss.

But then, something changed in the final three sets: The Lady Antlers’ underclassmen seemed to grow up during the match, and their veterans began dominating.

“(Fredericksburg) played hard; we played hard,” Coates said. “I was really, really proud of them sticking together and persevering … They were focused on each other.

“I hate to credit one kid over the other because I think it was an overall team effort.”

Indeed. The rally began with senior libero Savana Trahan, who continued to plunge to the court to keep the ball in play, registering 55 digs. More importantly, she lifted her teammates’ spirits during the turbulent first two sets, reminding them to simply flush out mistakes instead of dwelling on them. They followed the advice. Neva Henderson, Hailey Davis, Kindal Brown and Shayla Slaughter all made contributions during their Tivy varsity debut; Paige Melcher wreaked havoc at the front of the net and Ally Scheidle supplied 10 kills in the last three sets to help the Lady Antlers (1-0) rally to a win.

And then junior Keirson Jalowy reminded everyone in attendance how much she’s improved since last year. She received some playing time last season, but on Tuesday, she showed she’s going to be a major contributor this season, finishing with a team-high 16 kills and three aces. She gave the Lady Antlers separation in the fifth set, delivering two aces to extend the lead to 5-2.

“Keirson balled out tonight,” Trahan said. “I think she surprised pretty much everyone in the gym. She’s definitely going to be one of our main players.”

In the third set, Trahan and Jalowy paired up to swing the momentum of the match in Tivy’s direction. With the Lady Antlers’ leading 13-8, Trahan dove to keep the ball from touching the right side of the court, launching it toward the bleachers on the opposite side of the gym. It looked like it was going to sail out of play. Jalowy, though, had other ideas, colliding with a spectator sitting in the front row in an effort to keep the ball in play. The Lady Antlers eventually won the point when Fredericksburg committed an attacking error, giving Tivy fans a chance to applaud Trahan and Jalowy’s effort.

“We got this,” Trahan remembers thinking at the time.

From there, the Lady Antlers controlled the remainder of the match. They jumped out to a 13-7 advantage in the fourth set and led 12-6 in the fifth. Scheidle sealed the match with a kill.

Naturally though, the Lady Antlers are far from a finished product. Coates noted that they were out of position too many times against the Billies and committed too many preventable errors in the first two sets. That can’t continue to happen when the Lady Antlers enter District 26-5A play.

But the Lady Antlers showed Tuesday they’re willing to fight, no matter the circumstances. That’s enough reason for Coates to be excited about the rest of the season.

“I love Coach Coates,” Trahan said. “I am really excited to see what she is able to do with our players and where we go from here.”

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