Gator volleyball experiences turnaround season

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SEVEN SPRINGS – Jannah Marriner had no expectations when she took over the Spring Creek volleyball program during the summer.

She wasn’t sure who would show interest.

Would COVID-19 affect the season?

“I had no idea what it would (be) like,” Marriner said. “Coming in, I was hopeful we’d have a few returners that would help us out … set good examples for the new girls [and] help us get better, which is what they’ve done.”

They did.

Winless during the spring season, Spring Creek relied on its co-captains Yaeli Espinosa and Peyton Sullivan to help reverse that trend in summer workouts. The two showed strong leadership along with returners Cailyn Shivar and Emily Williams.

Six newcomers stepped into the gym during the first week of preseason practice. Marriner noticed each player had a solid volleyball IQ, but knew she and the team faced a learning curve.

Espinosa, Sullivan, Williams and Shivar took them under their wings.

They recognized the skill set each teammate brought to the court and encouraged them not to fall victim to their mistakes. Espinosa reminded them that once a point ended, forget it and move on.

“We learned how to work with each other, they had the attitude of putting the team priority [first],” Espinosa said. “We learned throughout our games … got better and didn’t let things like that get to us.”

One matter gnawed at the Gators, though.

Spring Creek hadn’t won a match since mid-October in 2018.

They started 0-7 this fall, yet Marriner saw improvement on the court, heard positive cheering from their teammates on the bench and felt confident the Gators were about to turn the corner.

Espinosa did, too.

It finally happened Sept. 2 at Union.

The Gators upended the Spartans in four sets and halted a 35-match losing streak. The long-awaited triumph led to a celebratory bus ride home that included selfies and texts to their friends.

“We did something exciting,” Espinosa said. “It was a really good feeling and we just bonded as a team. It gave us confidence, let us know that ‘hey, we can win.’”

Two days later, Spring Creek snapped a 28-game skid in conference play with a five-set road win at Neuse Six 2A foe Eastern Wayne.

Including the back-to-back road outings, the Gators have filed a 6-5 worksheet and finished 6-12 during regular-season play. They faced Eastern Wayne in the conference tournament Monday.

Espinosa attributed the success not only to confidence, but communication and movement on the floor. The Gators also improved at the service line and piled up an impressive 49 aces combined in conquests of Eastern Wayne and Beddingfield.

“Early in the season, they didn’t have very long volleys,” Marriner said. “It was just over quick. But now they don’t give up, they play to the whistle and that’s much, much better. Probably the thing I’m most proud of is that they’re really a close-knit team.

“They just play really well together.”

And have written their own history — so far.

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