It was more than just another win for Benton on Thursday at Springer Gymnasium.
The Cardinals delivered the first win over Bishop LeBlond in coach Barbara Bell’s tenure, sweeping the Golden Eagles 2-0.
Bell was more than happy with her team after accomplishing that milestone.
“I told these girls that they were a special group and it’s not just because they won tonight, but because they want it and they work so hard,” Bell said. “LeBlond is always going to give us a really great defensive game. They’re very smart when placing their kids. I always wonder what Coach (Kimberly) Huss does because she finds a way to get those kids to play great defense.”
Of course, no win is as sweet as one where adversity had to be overcome. In the first set, Benton (9-8-3) picked up its first lead late in the period. Leading 19-18, sophomore Alyia Stillman took over serving and put on a show.
Stillman pelted LeBlond (10-5) with brutal serves, scoring several successive aces as the Eagles struggled to return. By the time the Eagles got the ball back, the damage had already been done and the Cardinals eventually won 25-20.
Huss pointed to unfortunate timing as integral to the Cardinal’s run.
“We have a rotation this year that has just given us fits, every time we get to that rotation in a set we really struggle and I think they magnified that tonight,” Huss said. “They were going after people, they had a plan to be very offensive with their serves as opposed to just putting the ball in play, and I don’t think our team served that way.”
Stillman has shown herself to be a versatile and fundamental part of the lineup, as adept at serving up aces, setting up teammates, and power hitting on the outside.
Bell has a lot of faith in the underclassman.
“I try to tell Alyia, sometimes she looks over at us for serves and I just have to say ‘You’ve done it two serves already. I trust you.’” “I put a lot on her shoulders for a sophomore, but the intensity that she brings to the game, getting her teammates involved, a good player makes sure they get everybody involved in the play,” Bell said.
“Sometimes I’ll look at Bell, sometimes I’ll find my own spots to find out what’s open, sometimes my teammates will tell me,” Stillman said, describing the serving process on the big run. “Really, it’s just I look at the open space and that’s how I know where to go.”
The second set was more decisive, as the Cardinals took an early lead and kept the Eagles under a multiple score deficit throughout most of the contest. Though there was a string of point by LeBlond late, the Cardinals took the set 25-20.
As to what the win means for her coach and the team, Stillman likes the way the team is playing.