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Fighting for a friend

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With minds on injured teammate, gallant Lady Cat effort falls short

By John Herndon

SHELBYVILLE – There will be more tears shed around Anderson County volleyball.

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Senior Nights. The final game when the Lady Bearcats are eliminated from post-season play. Maybe even when a player twists an ankle or goes diving for a dig.

All will be expected. None will be more heartfelt or lingering than those that fell last Thursday after Collins High defeated the Lady Bearcats in two games.

But the tears that reddened their eyes were not necessarily about a district loss. Or maybe they were. “We wanted to win this one for Chelsea,” was the phrase heard most often after Collins, a first-year school that split from Shelby County, had remained unbeaten with a 25-11, 25-18 victory last Thursday.

Chelsea is Chelsea Payne, a senior and arguably the team's best performer. While a knee injury had already robbed Payne of her senior season a week earlier, it had been the events of the 24 hours prior to the match at Collins that dominated Anderson's thoughts last Thursday.

Payne had been involved in a serious car crash about 24 hours before the first serve. The senior had been airlifted to the University of Kentucky Medical Center and the rumors, many exaggerated, had been flying ever since.

“Before I left the hospital (Wednesday) night, I talked to Chelsea and her parents,” said a teary-eyed Chloe Bostow, who is Payne's classmate. “We knew that God was not going to let her die.”

Payne was expected to be at UK for about a week.

Even though the injuries were serious, they were not deemed life-threatening. It still had an impact on a team laden with freshmen and sophomores. Many had never experienced such a scare.

“I personally have not (faced anything like the emergency) and it has definitely been difficult for all the girls who are at times bombarded with questions about how she's doing and such at school,” Anderson coach Heather Montgomery said. “Of course as coaches, we feel the same love and concern for these girls as we would for our own so it's been a difficult situation, but our main concern is Chelsea having a speedy recovery and offering any help and support we can to her, her family, and our girls.”

 Despite the well-meaning train of thought that emphasizes playing the games temporarily relieves the pain and tension being felt when a leader and friend is injured, Thursday it did not work.

“She was on my mind the entire time” Bostow said.

“We played our hearts out. We were playing for Chelsea,” sophomore Bethany Hardin said.

Hardin approached Collins coach Abbey Buchert following the junior varsity contest about the possibility of the teams gathering to pray for Payne. The Lady Titans had already heard about the accident and prepared a get well card for Payne.

I want to commend the young ladies from Martha Layne Collins who expressed their genuine concern for Chelsea and for the team and are an outstanding group of young women,” Montgomery said.

The Lady Bearcats were unquestionably putting forth the effort. They dove after balls, tried to set for Bostow, Sierra Jones, Shelbi Savoie and Mercedes Dixon at the net and grimaced when their serves or returns fell out of bounds.

“The girls played harder than I have ever seen them play and they played with their hearts on their sleeves and left it all on the court,” Montgomery said.

But for most of the first game, the quick explosiveness essential to championship volleyball was just not there. Collins took control early and rolled to the easy win.

“There were definitely times when you could see the concern on their faces. I think they wanted to win so badly ... but their hearts were definitely with Chelsea and their minds were centered on the game,” Montgomery said.

However, it might have been understandable that the Lady Bearcats had their minds in two places.

“You could tell,” said Collins senior Leanna Armstrong, who headed a strong attack at the net.  “I would be thinking about (Payne) too.”

The second game was much closer. Even though Collins took the lead for good early in the contest, Anderson drew to within 21-18. The adrenaline was meeting the emotion until Collins delivered a crucial kill to effectively end Anderson's threat and score the final four points.

“Though the kill was hard to swallow, I could see in all their eyes that they weren't ready to back down until the very end,” Montgomery said.

As they left the court, the tears flowed more freely. The scoreboard showed that Collins had won convincingly. But wins and losses are not always the most accurate measure of doing one's best, especially in difficult situations.

“We were so incredibly proud of the girls,” Montgomery said. “They dug really deep during the game and learned a hard lesson about mind over matter and handled it so well. They showed so much strength and played cohesively which has been the goal for us since the season began.”

E-mail John Herndon at jpherndon@theandersonnews.com.