FORT SCOTT -- In its annual excursion an hour northeast to tip off the new campaign, the Labette Cardinals volleyball program traveled to the Fort Scott Tournament on Friday. The Cardinals dropped its first game to host Fort Scott 3-0 (25-15, 25-13, 25-18) before getting swept by Neosho County 3-0 (25-16, 25-18, 25-14). 

“I wanted to see the girls get better and start understanding the pace of the game,” Labette second-year head coach Haley Miller said. “It took us about a set-and-a-half in both games to adjust to the speed. It sucks coming home 0-2 for the day, but I still feel like the girls got better.” 

In its season-opening match against the Greyhounds, Labette’s defense struggled to keep Fort Scott from teeing off at the net. 

“It comes down to the little things,” Miller said. “We had a lot of communication errors. It wasn’t anything Fort Scott did to us. It was what we did to ourselves. Fort Scott went out there and earned more points than us.” 

The Greyhounds pounded away at the middle of Labette’s defense, often putting the ball away on their swings. 

“Fort Scott runs a fast offense,” Miller said. “That’s something I’ve tried to drill into my team’s heads is how fast this conference is. Towards the end of the match, we were getting more touches on their balls.” 

Fresman Alexis Kapales, making her collegiate debut, led the Cardinals with 11 kills. 

“She went out and did her job,” Miller said. “She still needs to work on her volleyball IQ. But I can’t be mad at the kid for how she did in her first match.” 

Katelynn Wissman was second on the Cardinals with six kills against Fort Scott. Ania Howard paced Labette with 15 assists while Tessa Newman tallied 14 digs. 

As for the Cardinals’ evening tilt against the Neosho County, the Panthers followed the Greyhounds’ precedent in being more aggressive offensively at the net.

“We aren’t earning enough points,” Miller said. “Nobody is going up to put the ball away. We need to be aggressive on the frontline rather than just putting the ball on the other side of the court.” 

Hannah Casteel, Lainee Gulledge and Wissman each led Labette with four kills in the loss to the Panthers. 

Howard chipped in 10 assists while Parsons native Hannah Springs, making her collegiate debut at the tournament, had four in the match. 

“We’re going to have to keep running that 6-2 with them both rotating on the court,” Miller said of Howard and Spriggs. “They’re short setters. But they did better with their decision-making today than I expected. They had a few errors, but hopefully we can keep honing in with them.” 

Newman led Labette with 12 digs against the Panthers, Kapales had nine and Spriggs had eight. 

The Cardinals return to Fort Scott on Saturday to wrap up the tournament with a 9 a.m. start against Allen, followed by a 3 p.m. showdown with Seminole State.

While Fort Scott and Neosho County are traditionally among the upper echelon teams in the KJCCC, Allen and Seminole State are far more manageable opponents. That makes progress for Miller’s young squad capable of moving the needle in the win column. 

“We’re not playing terrible volleyball,” Miller said. “But we have to earn our points to be successful.”

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