By Thomas Sellers Jr.
In an honest moment, coaches and players will admit they do look forward to rivalry showdowns, upset opportunities and league battles. On Sept. 9, the Millington Lady Trojans entered the William Osteen Gymnasium prepared to shock the Class 3A power Brighton Lady Cardinals.
Meanwhile Brighton wasn’t too focus on the Class 2A Lady Trojans, but maybe looking ahead to the next day’s match at Dyer County. Millington’s agenda of upset was falling into place jumping ahead 12-3 in the opening set.
“We were just not talking or communicating,” Brighton junior MacKenzie Winnans acknowledged. “We didn’t go out there with intensity. It kind of bit us in the butt a little bit until we started to pick it up.”
The Lady Cardinals picked it up in time to win the opening set 25-23. Brighton continued to gain momentum against the Lady Trojans proceeding to win the next two sets 25-10 and 25-10.
“Last year we didn’t have a hard time with Millington and some of these other teams,” Brighton Head Coach Shayna Johnson said. “So we were overlooking them a little bit because we play Dyer County tomorrow. I think we were one step ahead and not really thinking about this game.
“And those are the games you lose,” she continued. “I’ve told them early in one of my timeouts, ‘If we don’t change our mentality, it’s not going to be good.’ They stepped it up little bit by little bit. And we did get the 3-0 win but it was not our prettiest win.”
Millington’s early play was a thing of beauty with aces from Avery Smith. Ally Marona contributed a spike that made the score 7-2. The Lady Trojans received solid play at the net from Bryuna Jeffries and Kayla Dawson to build the 12-3 advantage.
Brighton stopped the bleeding when junior DeMiyah Gatlin slapped a kill. Her play sparked a 15-6 Lady Cardinal run. During that stretch Winnans displayed her athleticism with a pair of spikes.
Brighton also received an ace from Jade Howard to deadlock the set at 18-18. The opening set would be tied three more time with Winnans scoring on a spike and tip.
Millington kept pace with points from Fabiola Villa and a kill from Allison Kiefer. But the Lady Trojans couldn’t secure the final two points to break the 23-23 tie. Brighton got 25 first and earned the opening set.
“Our coach sparked us and we do have a big game tomorrow against Dyer County,” Winnans said. “We didn’t practice over the weekend. We might have been overlooking this game a little bit. And we realized this game is what will get us prepared for the game tomorrow. So we picked it up and played like we would tomorrow so we can win.”
In the next two sets, Millington was competitive with highlights from Lexi Peerey serving up an ace, Marona blocking Brighton spike attempts and Smith scoring points from serves.
Brighton’s highlights outnumbered Millington’s with Gatlin stepping up her attacks. Andi Coulston dropped an ace that barely got over the net locking up the Millington defense.
Lauren Baskin scored on a running tip that mascaraed as a set attempt. And Winnans was consistent with her all-around play helping Brighton win the final sets 25-10.
“It was my teammates,” Winnans said. “I can’t do this without them. That was what got me going, their enthusiasm.”
Winnans said enthusiasm will be key once Brighton steps back into league play against Dyer County.
“We definitely have to come out on top of our game to get a lead in all three sets,” she said. “We have to show intensity and be ready to go out and win. We have to play hard.”
Johnson agreed that in order to beat the Lady Choctaws, Brighton has to be locked in from the first serve.
“I told them right at the end, we’ve got to start the game with the intensity we ended with today,” she said. “We can’t dig ourselves into that hold and then try to climb out and fight back. If we get that early lead and just keep the lead, that’s an easy win for us.
“But once we get into that early hole, we tend to shutdown mentally, then physically,” Johnson concluded. “Then it is a battle the whole way through when it doesn’t have to be.”
Dyer County swept the Lady Cardinals in three sets the following day.