CLINCHPORT, Va. – Normally when looking at a team’s roster, the word “senior” signifies a player who has spent four years honing their abilities to become a leader on the team. For Holston High School senior Ryland Harrison, her final season of varsity sports has also been her first season playing volleyball.
“This is my first year, so it’s been a ride. Lots of new experiences and great people, and I’m just really happy to be out here because I’ve never done anything like this,” Harrison said. “Senior year, I’d like to have some new experiences. So this has been a great environment for that. We all work really hard and I have never worked with a group of individuals with such athleticism and integrity like these people.”
The theme of firsts and lasts carried over for Harrison into Thursday night, as she reached up for the block across the middle of the net to score the last point of the match to secure a 25-15, 25-18, 25-18 victory over Rye Cove in the quarterfinals of the VHSL Region 1D tournament.
“That felt really good. I run track. I’ve been running track for six years, so this is like, a very, very, very, very different experience and it is very liberating and very exciting,” Harrison said. “I’m just really humbled. That was awesome.”
Harrison’s block came in the waning moments of the closest set of the night. Rye Cove opened the third set up 6-4 over Holston, but after several lead changes the Cavaliers moved back in front 16-14. An 8-1 scoring run by Holston would put the team one point away from advancing to the semifinals, but the Eagles refused to yield. Four unanswered points from Rye Cove would trim the deficit to single digits before the block by Harrison ended the match.
“I think tonight we came out and we played really well. That was probably the best that we’ve played all year as a team,” Cavaliers coach Monica Parrott said. “Very good team dynamic tonight. The main thing was our hitters hit really well tonight and our blocking. Our blockers were really good tonight.”
But while the Cavaliers ended the night in celebration, the Eagles held a celebration of their own early in the second set. After a kill by Rye Cove cut Holston’s lead to 9-4, play was momentarily halted to recognize Eagles senior Emily Bishop after she recorded her 1,000th career assist.
“I’m very proud of myself, but I’m very proud of my team. I couldn’t have done it without them,” Bishop said. “My coaches, they pushed me to the point where I thought I was going to quit, but I kept through and I’m glad I did. That’s for sure.”
Jordan Lowe led the Cavaliers with a match-high 12 kills to go along with one service ace. Lowe also tied with Harrison for the match-high with five blocks each. Senior Abigail Conde recorded a double-double with 15 digs and 26 assists, while senior Libyan French also achieved the mark with 10 kills and 19 digs.
The Eagles were led in the loss by Ashton Horton, who finished with eight kills and two blocks. In her final match with Rye Cove, Bishop finished with 25 assists, 12 digs and one ace. Kaleigh Sloan and Laken Sharpe tied for second on the team with six kills each, while Sloan finished with two blocks and 16 digs,
“I think overall we did pretty well. We had a lot of hitters out of sorts tonight,” Eagles coach Britney Lawson Salyer said. “But they took it in stride, kept their heads up and they played hard out there and gave them a run for their money. I’m very proud of our seniors.”
As she walked off her home court for the last time, Bishop said she believes the future is bright for her team going into next season, and she will be in the stands cheering them on every chance she gets.
“Next year, I wish them the best and they’re going to do great things,” Bishop said. “I’m going to be here every time I can to support them through everything, because they deserve it. I think they’ll go far next year.”
Holston advances now to the semifinals of the Region 1D Tournament, as they prepare to travel to Eastside on Tuesday night to take on Thomas Walker . Heading into that matchup, Parrott said her team just needs to stay focused on what they’ve been doing well.
“Just keep working hard and get ready to get some wins,” Parrott said.