SEYMOUR — The King’s Academy volleyball team suffered quite the loss ahead of the postseason last year.
It happened when the Lady Lions’ only setter — Kolbie Greene — accidentally stepped on her teammate’s foot during a match. She sprained her ankle, sidelining her for the playoffs and all but squashing TKA’s hopes of making a second straight appearance in the Division II-A state tournament.
“But my teammates stepped up and covered for me and did really well,” said Greene, a junior. “This season, I want to give it back to them for playing for me. I really want to continue going farther for the team.”
Greene is making up for her absence last season by sparking TKA — the No. 2 seed in District 1 — to victory over Silverdale Baptist Academy — the No. 3 seed in District 2 — in the first round of the Division II-A East Region tournament on Thursday night at TKA. The Lady Lions won 25-13, 25-13, 25-28 to advance to the semifinals.
It’s a special victory for the Lady Lions, whose season came to an end at this exact point last season.
TKA returns to action Saturday to establish region tournament seeding. The Lady Lions will host a match on Tuesday if they place among the top two teams this weekend. Otherwise, they will continue tournament play in Nashville.
After Saturday, TKA will be two wins from advancing to the state tournament.
“We knew whatever happened last year happened, and we were going to move forward this year,” TKA coach Kelly Peterson said. “They really do have that extra drive. We’re really focused on finishing and not letting up.”
Finishing matches is especially important for TKA given it only has seven players, which adds the obstacle of fatigue as matches drag into more than three sets.
The Lady Lions began the season with six players, leaving no room for injury. They got boost when they added Valeriya Varnakova after the first week. A sophomore outside hitter, Varnakova is from Russia, where she said volleyball is played much slower.
Her powerful arm was on display against Silverdale as she fired shots for which the Seahawks had no answer.
“It picks us up while the other team just goes, ‘Woah, what just happened?’” Peterson said of Varnakova’s play. “We were hoping she would be (a contributor), but also coming to a new country, without your parents, all by yourself — and the things that go with that — we were just hoping.”
It wasn’t all smooth sailing for TKA on Thursday. After losing the first two sets by 12 points, Silverdale put up a fight in the third, cutting TKA’s lead to 18-16 before the Lady Lions went on a 7-2 run.
Lauren Collins sealed the victory with an ace. She finished with a team-high 17 service points.
Varnakova was all smiles after the match, particularly because her mom, who was visiting from Russia, was in attendance. Typically, Varnakova’s parents wake up around 3 a.m. to watch a stream of TKA’s matches — a result of the time difference.
Varnakova said they haven’t missed one yet.
“I love my parents and I want to be better for them,” Varnakova said. “I’m really glad to be here on this team because they are really nice girls — really sweet. They are just funny girls, and I like to spend time with them.”
The friendliness of her teammates has helped Varnakova combat homesickness. However, she was shocked to learn there were so few Lady Lions on the roster.
Despite the team’s size, Varnakova said she recognized TKA’s potential when she saw Greene play for the first time.
“I thought it will be a great season,” Varnakova said. “I think that our setter Kolbie is really, really good. In Russia, we don’t have a setter like her.”
Likewise, Greene attributed much of TKA’s success to the addition of Varnakova. She said the potential for the Lady Lions returning to the state tournament for the second time in three years is there.
“When we had six players, we didn’t know what we were going to do,” Greene said. “We had strong middles, but we didn’t have a strong outside hitter (until Varnakova). I really think God has his hand in everything we’re doing.”