By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
RIPLEY – Belmont coach Reid Gann wasn’t sure what kind of volleyball player he inherited when 6-foot-2 Russian exchange student Maria Menshchikova walked into the gym.
“I just knew I was getting a tall girl,” he said.
He’ll tell you now that she’s a tall girl who can play.
Menshchikova recorded 16 kills and blocked four shots Thursday to lead the Lady Cardinals to a 3-0 (25-23, 25-12, 25-21) victory against Ripley.
Belmont (11-6) is playing as an independent in its first season of Mississippi High School Activities Association competition. Ripley (6-9) plays in Class 1, Region 1 and has a 2-1 region record.
“There’s not much you can do about (Menshchikova),” Ripley assistant coach Ashley Connolly said. “You learn to play around her.
“… You can’t play around her. She is going to touch the ball every volley.”
Belmont committed eight service errors in the first game, which allowed the Lady Tigers to remain in striking distance.
“We’ve got hard, firm serves,” Gann said. “We need to take a little off and get the ball in. That’s something we can correct. I thought we passed the ball well tonight, as well as we’ve passed all year.”
A service ace by Menshchikova helped Belmont build a 10-3 in the opening game, but Ripley came back to score eight consecutive points.
Three of those came on service aces by Meg Lambert. Her last ace gave the Tigers an 11-10 lead.
Belmont answered with a kill by Menshchikova and an ace by Katelyn Nunley to put their team back ahead.
Belmont’s Tori Powers closed out the first game win with an ace.
Menshchikova had three kills in the Lady Cardinals’ 13-point win in the second game. She had three early kills in the third game to give Belmont a 13-4 advantage.
Ripley rallied to close the gap to 22-21 on kill by Lambert, but Menshchikova sealed the match victory with a kill.