The battle of Union on the volleyball court also served as a return of a cherished tradition on Tuesday night.
Ryle and Cooper renewed their volleyball rivalry on Ryle’s home court. Not only was it a marquee matchup of two teams ranked in the top 16 in the state by the Kentucky Volleyball Coaches Association, it was a chance for several top students to get a moment in the spotlight.
Before the match, the teams staged a volleyball game between special-needs students from both schools. They played with a large beach ball as the students, including one in a wheelchair, competed at the net with the entire varsity teams behind them on the court cheering them on.
The students were also on the court when the lineups were introduced for both teams.
The game, started by Ryle head coach Tasha Lovins and Cooper head coach Michelle Isaac several years ago, has been a memorable moment in the season, but they weren’t able to do it in 2020 because of the pandemic.
“It’s so exciting,” Lovins said. “We raise money, do bake sales, but the big thing is the kids get to come on the court and got to play. I have several players who work with them in the classrooms, and so does Michelle, so it’s good to get them out on the court and interact with them. They get to be captains and get introduced with the team. We look forward to this every year and we were so upset that we didn’t get to do it because of COVID, so this year made it 10 times more special.”
The game serves as a fundraiser for the special-needs classrooms, with donations accepted at the gate. Lovins said there used to be competition between the schools to raise money against each other, but now they split the proceeds.
The money goes to equipment used for the students.
Once the match started, Ryle outlasted its rival 3-0 to improve to 10-3 on the season. Ryle is ranked seventh in the state, and all three of those losses came to out-of-state teams last weekend in Louisville. Cooper, 8-6 overall, is ranked 16th in the state and was coming off two wins against top-25 teams during a tournament in Bowling Green.
Ryle controlled the first set 25-13, with only three of Cooper’s points coming via a kill or a block. The Jaguars made moves in the last two sets, leading 16-12 in set three before the Raiders rallied to win.
“It’s exciting to see them come back from that huge deficit,’ Lovins said. “The girls just kept fighting. We played a lot of close matches in Louisville, and we learned to just do one point at a time and that helped us pull off the win.”
Ryle senior Lucy Trump had 17 kills in the match. Trump, a Notre Dame commit, is the reigning conference player of the year and is looking for more this season.
“We are a very uplifting team,” Trump said. “We play together, rather than six individuals on the court. When one of us makes a mistake, we always back each other up and make each other accountable.”
Ryle is a young team with five seniors. Trump and middle blocker Ava Kidd get the most playing time in the group along with Sierra Smith. Camila Perez Delgado and Lauryn Williams get key time off the bench.
Kidd leads the team in blocks, and is one of several attackers who the Raiders count on besides Trump, and they’re especially dangerous when Trump is aligned in the back row.
“She’s always one of our leaders,” Lovins said of Trump. “Whenever we need someone to step up, it’s usually her and Ava with their senior leadership and their experience on the court.”
During the rivalry match, Ryle had to adjust to some injuries and one of its setters being out because of quarantine.
“It’s really great to see the young girls step up and play well in the spotlight just like Lucy does,” Kidd said. “We learned to trust each other more, just because we have so many new faces on the team. We learned to adapt to each other more.”
Ryle was scheduled to play at Boone County Thursday night and Cooper was to play at Newport Central Catholic before traveling to Conner for a 33rd District game Sept. 21.
“We are like one big family,” Trump said. “We’re all really close and we love playing this sport together.”