Lady Panthers take two from Fleming Island

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ORANGE PARK - With an explosive front attack from a 5'-9" front hitter, the Ridgeview High Lady Panthers volleyball team made a slight bruise with a soft shot on match point to beat Fleming Island High 2-0 in a preseason clash at Ridgeview High School on Saturday.

"One of my coaching friends thought I was crazy to set this little match up as our first game back into the season," said Ridgeview coach Destiny Brightman, ironically, after her first win ever over former coach partner Amy Walker as the duo were together to lead Orange Park High to deep region playoff runs about five years ago. "Since I took over here and she went to Fleming Island, we've never beaten Fleming Island. Last season, we had a very rough five game loss to them in their place."

At the final match point at 25-24 for Ridgeview, with Fleming Island hitter Jasmine Robinson rocking the Panther Den with three straight power strokes, it was Ridgeview's Teeya Desgoutte firing back off Halford's saves on the back line. At 25-24 Ridgeview, Panther senior setter Abigail Tennant quietly and deftly quelled the near-deafening gymnasium with a soft dink shot for the match winner, 26-24.

Leading the charge for Brightman on the outside hitting scores was junior Elaina Reynolds, who despite being one of the smallest net attackers on the court, was finding the floor (10 Kills) through the web of Fleming Island's block spectrum of Jasmine Robinson, Emma Richard and Maya Walker with 6'-1" Sonoma Hammond a top blocker for Walker.

For Walker, the early start of the season with a handful of returning players from a strong 2019 campaign, was an experiment in her lineup with players in different spots to test readiness and roster participation.

"Everyone we play, this is their state championship game," said Walker, who finished 16-6 last year and got bounced by Ocala Forest in the region playoff opener. "We were running totally different lineups; getting people in to get some game time and just kind of seeing how players felt for the first game."

In game one, Ridgeview fired away on all cylinders behind Reynolds who sliced scoring shots and freshman blocker Haley Robinson, 6'-0", able to get to the Fleming Island missiles before they got past the net with gym-rattling blocks at the net.

"We knew they were going to come out hitting hard in the first game, then they went to some misdirection and soft shots over our blockers," said Brightman, who warmed up with a 2-0 win over Clay in decisive fashion. "It threw us off a bit, then, at the end with them moving people around, they started to find their spots."

Ridgeview won game one 25-16 and set up a pseudo grudge match for game two that finish with a flurry of haymakers from both sides with Robinson crashing through the Ridgeview blocking scheme with three straight shots. Ridgeview would prevail with Robinson snuffing a scoring shot by Fleming Island's Christina Killingsworth to set upa 25-24 Panther lead.

"Jasmine was on the outside for the first game and maybe a little uncomfortable and I moved her to her spot in the center and then she was doing what she does," said Walker.

The two teams flexed at 21-20 Ridgeview in game two with Robinson commanding from center and Reynolds answering. Keys to the volleys were, for Ridgeview, libero Ashlyn Halford able to bounce Robinson's lightning bolts back to the net and, for Fleming Island, Walker putting a little height at the net with 6'1" freshman Rauly Eason teaming with 5'-8"

Kerrie Kugler and senior left-hander Emma Richard who scored some keys points from her left side outside slot.

"She was on the front row as an offensive player and got some hits, but, near the end, she was finding her spots," said Walker.

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