IOLA — For 453 days, the Labette Cardinals volleyball program waited to take the court for a match. It was the longest layoff of any sport in the school, lengthened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Monday night, Labette finally took the floor to start its 2021 spring championship season. The Cardinals dropped a four-set match to the Allen Red Devils 3-1 (25-18, 24-26, 25-21, 25-17).

Despite the loss, third-year Labette head coach Haley Miller was perhaps as optimistic about her team’s prospects as she’s ever been.

“I went into the locker room and told my team to walk out with their head held high,” Miller said. “I’m proud of the way we came out and played. Allen was expecting the same team from last season and we proved a point. We struggled earning our points but took them four sets. So I’m not mad at how we started the season.” 

Allen, a team that’s established itself as a threat in the KJCCC ranks, kept Labette off balance throughout the night. When the Cardinals solved the Red Devils’ power hitters on the outside, Allen won with tips.

“They started tipping shorter to where we didn’t have kids,” Miller said. “Those short tips that go right along the net are hard to pick up for any team.” 

Labette struggled at times to get into a rhythm offensively against Allen’s serve.

“That’s on us, we weren’t handling that very well,” Miller said. “We may have gotten a little too relaxed with what we were doing. Serve-receive definitely throws your gameplan off if it doesn’t go well. But seven errors in a four-set match really isn’t that terrible.” 

Haley J. Miller, a freshman for the Cardinals who’s not related to her head coach, led the Cardinals with 12 kills.

“Haley came out and played really great,” Miller said. “We’ve got to work on isolating her more. We’ve also got to get more kids up to par when she’s not on the floor in a rotation. That’s a minor adjustment for us.” 

Katie Bitner added 10 kills and 17 assists while Maci Bohanon also tallied 17 assists.

Sophomore Tessa Newman racked up 32 digs while Bohanon added 20.

“We’re more well rounded,” Miller said. “We have higher dynamic kids that are willing to play hard and do what I ask of them. They’re willing to put forth that effort every day, all day.” 

Stats for Allen were unavailable.

Labette plays its home opener on Thursday against Cloud County.

“We can adjust pretty well and we have a dynamic group of kids,” Miller said. “We’ll come up with what works best for our team, be it tipping, defensive on the block and focus on going 1-0.” 

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