A special Thursday had little to do with the final result for the Thompson High volleyball team.
Sure, the 25-21, 25-10, 25-12 victory over visiting Calera was a tremendous way to begin the season for the Warriors. However, what happened on the court in the season-opening triumph took a backseat to everything that surrounded the first regular season event in the brand new Warrior Arena.
“This is something for us to build on,” said Thompson volleyball head coach Judy Green, whose team is ranked No. 7 in the initial AHSAA Class 7A rankings. “We’re just setting the stage. I do like the fact that we all seem to be together. The coaches all seem to be together – not just our coaches but all the coaches in the school. We’re all rowing together. Rowing the boat is our mantra. And, tonight, we all rolled.”
It didn’t take her long to capture that feeling.
“As soon as the flag ran out today, leading our team on the court, I knew that this was going to be something I remember for a long time,” Green said.
Probably the biggest home crowd in Thompson volleyball history was inside Warrior Arena. The end zone, which housed the student sections, was nearly full and very loud. The Thompson High coaching staff stopped by the school’s cafeteria early this week to ask for support from the students. Obviously, the students responded.
“I know the girls were so nervous to play in front of so many people, even the ones sitting on the bench were nervous,” Green said. “But, I told them it’s a good nervousness. It’s not one of those things of ‘I’m not confident in my ability or my teammates ability.’ It’s ‘Oh my gosh, there are a lot of people here.’ That’s something that Thompson volleyball has never really had.”
Early in the game, however, it was anything but electrifying for the Warriors. The Eagles scored the first eight points of the game, with Thompson mistakes contributing greatly to the deficit.
“I think that there was a lot of nerves and I’m not surprised,” Green said. “My heart was beating real fast during pregame. It was a matter of getting comfortable and playing our style of ball. It took a little while today, but, I’m glad, because it was an opportunity to overcome adversity.”
Sophomore Kelsey Tangle provided the first point for Thompson and the Warriors settled in to grind out the first set win. Diamond Gilliland’s emphatic spike, which settled into the back left corner, clinched the first set.
It was the beginning of a big night for the 6-foot-1 Gilliland.
“We need to set her more, she has the ability to take over a match,” Green said.
After the impressive comeback in the first set, the Warriors dominated the rest of the way behind Gilliland, Mikayla Touhey and Kolbi Reed. The service game was also crisp for the Warriors.
“We’re very capable of that,” Green said of the outstanding serving by her team. “That’s one area I think we’ve improved in. We’ve worked hard on serving.”
When the game ended, Green put into perspective what it meant to not only her and her program but the community.
“It all came together today,” said Green, a former head coach at the University of Alabama. “We worked together – our administration, our other coaches have really pitched in. They made today a very special day. I actually texted Dr. Vickers this morning and said ‘I haven’t been this excited for a volleyball season, I think, since I was at Alabama.’ It was from an event perspective, not just playing volleyball. I’m always excited about volleyball. I’m talking about putting on something that people want to be a part of and feel entertained. It’s not just how the volleyball team performs but how the full atmosphere is in the arena.”