POPLARVILLE, Miss. (PRCC Athletics) - Pearl River was greeted by a simple message when the Wildcats arrived at Shivers Gymnasium on Saturday: Trailblazers.
As Mississippi's first junior college volleyball program, if the Wildcats felt the weight of the moment, it didn't show.
In front of an electric capacity crowd, PRCC swept Coastal Alabama-East 3-0 (28-26, 25-17, 25-10).
"They knew today they were making history. It was on the board when they saw their new locker room this morning. Trailblazing," PRCC coach Haley Chatham said. "That's our theme for the season.
"We were just ready to be home and play in front of their people in their gym for the first time."
Pearl River (1-0 overall) played two exhibitions prior to Saturday. And although they didn't come out victorious against the experienced programs, the matches directly impacted Saturday's outcome.
“The buildup was rough, honestly. We had two scrimmages that did not go well. I felt like once we realized we were going to be home we just needed to be like, this is ours and go win it,” said freshman middle blocker LaShundria Chatman (Brandon). “I was anxious — I wasn’t really nervous because I love pressure situations — but I was anxious. I was excited and I was just ready.”
There was a bit of a feeling out period early in the match. Chatman slammed home Pearl River's first ever point at the midpoint of the net to tie the match 1-1 and PRCC proceeded to take nine of the next 12 points to pull ahead 10-4 and force the visiting Warhawks (0-1) to call a timeout.
Coastal Alabama rallied, eventually taking a short 18-17 advantage. Isabella Toennes (Kiln; Hancock) tied the match on a cross-court pass from prep teammate Harleigh LaFontaine (Kiln; Hancock) to tie the match back up. The two squads went back and forth until PRCC took four of the final five points to claim the match 28-26 on a Toennis slam off a Warhawk defender and out of bounds.
"We got the nerves out (in the first set). First home game. Just worked through it," Chatman said. "Those are the fun games when they're one-and-one because you're in it."
The visitors actually pulled ahead 10-8 early in the second set, but PRCC ripped off three straight points to take an 11-10 advantage and force another Warhawk timeout.
Coastal Alabama took the next point, but it was virtually all Wildcats after that. Maleah Austin (Kiln; Hancock) registered a kill off of a LaFontaine backset to put PRCC ahead 14-11. Holding a 24-17 advantage, Martin Methodist transfer Madelyn Misita (Clinton) slammed home a wayward Warhawk pass to take the second set 25-17.
The rout was on early in the second set. With LaFontaine serving, PRCC ripped off a 6-0 advantage and pushed their lead to 12-3 on a Chatman ace.
Austin later scored for PRCC through a Coastal Alabama block to put the Wildcats ahead 24-9 and Chatman put the finishing touches on the sweep by powering an attack off a Warhawk and behind the scorer's table.
"When you get the momentum, if you can hold onto it, that's usually how it goes," Chatham said. "You just have to make sure you have the goal to hold onto the momentum."
Each Wildcat who played had a role in the victory, Chatham said. She was especially proud of her setters, LaFontaine and Austin, who did a masterful job of distributing the ball in their first collegiate action.
"Both of them played well," she said. "They put up some great balls and made outstanding decisions.
"They were key to the win."
The "seventh man" of the match was unquestionably the fan support.
"It was packed. I didn't know what to expect, but that made the match better," Chatman said. "Volleyball matches are so much better when it's packed, so when (the stands filled up), I thought, 'oh, it's here, it's real, it's time.'
"That was just very exciting. We loved it. And then when you get a kill you're like, 'yeah, I did that.'"