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By JOEL COLEMAN
Thursday proved to be a productive night in a couple of ways for the Starkville High volleyball team.
Hosting first-year program Williams-Sullivan, SHS head coach Lauren Love was reunited with a former college teammate and the Lady Jackets remained perfect at home with a non-region win in straight sets.
Starkville (16-10 overall, 5-0 in district play) took a 25-6 win in the first set, won 25-4 in the second set, then finished off Williams-Sullivan with a 25-6 victory in the third set.
SHS is now 5-0 when playing at the Starkville Sportsplex Gymnasium.
"There's different challenges with every opponent," said Love. "When you're playing a new program, it's a matter of continuing to play our game. We have to stay intense, stay focused and take care of our side because we don't know what to expect with the ball coming back. We just had to be ready for every play."
Starkville indeed proved to be well-prepared, simply overmatching Williams-Sullivan.
Wheeler Richardson paced Starkville with 13 assists, 11 aces and two kills, April Reese added nine aces and two kills and Michaela Mills had six aces and two kills for SHS in the triumph.
Vicky Vo had five aces, Khristian Carr had five kills and Jamiyah Covington had two kills for the Lady Jackets, who showed no signs of underestimating the newly-formed Williams-Sullivan squad.
"We want to show respect to our opponent, that we're still going to play," said Love. "We know they came to play and we want to play too."
If Love or Starkville needed any additional motivation to get the competitive juices flowing on Thursday, Williams-Sullivan head coach Jodee Scott could have served as the spark.
Scott played with Love at the University of Tennessee during the 1996 volleyball season.
While Scott was a Lady Vol from 1995-96, Love played in Knoxville from 1996-99.
Love said she had been looking forward to playing against Williams-Sullivan so she could reunite with Scott.
"We've been excited and been texting about it," said Love. "We hadn't really seen or talked to each other in 10 or 12 years, so it was really nice.
"Plus it's great for Mississippi volleyball, what (Scott) has done at (Williams-Sullivan), starting up that volleyball program. We're all on the same side here. We're all trying to get people excited about volleyball."
Excitement and anticipation are especially growing now around the Starkville program. After Thursday's match, the Lady Jackets now have just three regular-season matches remaining, all home district contests.
Starkville next plays on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. against Yazoo City.
Following that match, SHS hosts Callaway on Oct. 3 before battling Ridgeland the following night.
Complicating matters though is the fact that Starkville is entering a busy time of year off the court, a factor that could slow down SHS's recent momentum.
With the potential to win a district championship at stake, Love says her Lady Jackets have to make sure not to let their guard down.
"We have huge matches coming up," said Love. "We have to take every opportunity. We actually came in before (Thursday's) match to get some extra touches because school is getting busy, Homecoming is coming up and next week is an insane week for us and for our girls.
"We've got to remember to keep volleyball at a certain level of focus."