Natalie Lucas coached her way to a three-set Tri-Valley Conference Ohio Division win on Tuesday, and Rachael Gilkey was right by her side.
A few years ago, that would have meant the Athens Bulldogs were on the winning side of the scoreboard. Lucas won four league titles coaching at Athens, with Gilkey serving as one of her most powerful players.
Nowadays, Lucas is the head coach of the Alexander Spartans, and Gilkey is her varsity assistant. The tandem led Alexander to a 3-0 win — 25-10, 25-17, 25-12 — at Athens High School’s Charles McAfee Gymnasium.
Not only did Lucas win four TVC-Ohio titles from 2013 through 2016 with the Bulldogs, but they also won four sectional titles and two district titles. Athens went all the way to the Division II regional finals in Gilkey’s senior season in 2015.
Lucas haw now turned the page, and picked up an important win to help keep Alexander alive in the current TVC-Ohio race.
“We’ve had a lot of good memories and moments here, but it’s onto a new and next adventure and we’re glad to be where we’re at right now,” Lucas said.
The Spartans were able to end a two-game losing streak in improving to 7-2 overall, and 3-1 in the TVC-Ohio. Alexander suffered tough losses to Vinton County and South Webster, but were in control in the bounce-back win over Athens.
“I felt like we did OK,” Lucas said. “I still feel like there’s room for improvement. We were a little bit flat in set two and even coming out of the gate at the beginning of the match, I felt like we were just a little bit flat. Stuff still to work on.”
The Spartans may still have things to work on, but it was a series of big runs that led to their sweep over Athens (2-2 TVC-Ohio).
Every set featured a big Alexander run at some point that left Athens on its heels.
“They did a nice job of switching it up and we weren’t quite ready to move,” Athens coach Ali Koga said. “Honestly, tips killed us in that last game which is just us not being on the balls of our feet and moving, not be ready to go forward.”
Athens scored the first point of the match, but then saw Alexander go ahead 13-2 after Lexie Grissett’s ace. The lead continued to grow to 22-7 after an Erin Scurlock kill, as the Spartans were out of the gate with a lead.
Athens’ best stretch came at the start of the second set, leading 9-5 thanks to Greta Gunderson’s kill.
“We were communicating,” Koga said. “I feel like when these girls communicate and they are one cohesive unit, they can be something really great. But then they get down and the communication breaks apart and they struggle to get that back.”
Alexander did roar back after the early deficit, scoring 12 points in a row behind Olivia Ohms’ serving for a 17-9 edge.
Ohms had a pair of aces during that long stretch, eventually a 16-1 run for a 21-10 edge.
“We’re working on our aggresive serving and trying to pin point our serving,” Lucas said. “I felt like we did a much better job of that today then what we have been doing in the past.”
Brooke Casto also enjoyed a big second set for the Spartans, getting six of her 11 kills during that stretch. She gave Alexander a strong option to complement Karsyn Raines, who had a match-high 14 kills.
“Brooke played very, very well tonight, both offensive and defensively,” Lucas said. “She anchors that left-back position, gets a lot of digs over here on the side as well. I felt like she played very clean tonight all the way around and was very smart about where she was placing the ball.”
Alexander again jumped ahead in the third set, 11-3, after Macey Jordan’s kill. Athens got a steady dose of Raines in the closing set, as the senior had eight of her kills to close out the win. Her final spike accounted for the 25-12 final score, and the sweep.
Jadyn Mace also had 40 assists for Alexander, as Scurlock added nine kills and three aces, while Ohms had four aces.
The Spartans travel to Meigs on Thursday, as they attempt to remain just a game back of league-leader Vinton County in the league standings.
Athens has now dropped TVC-Ohio matches to both Vinton County and Alexander. Gunderson led the ‘Dogs with five kills, while Ava Williams and Bailey Cordray-Davis each had three kills. Layken Mullins handed out 13 assists.
Athens also honored its lone senior before the game in Kristina Rana, and she finished with a pair of kills.
The Bulldogs will travel to River Valley on Thursday, as Koga continues her first season leading the way.
Koga is Athens’ fourth head coach in the four seasons since Lucas’ last campaign in 2016. She said she likes the potential of her young group of Bulldogs.
“All of them want to do well,” she said. “They do a better job of not getting down on themselves that I’ve seen in the past. I think they have that drive. If we keep working with it, can be something really special, but we just have to keep working, keep practicing hard. It’s early in the season. We have time to make those corrections, but this group of girls, they’re great.”