Lady Raiders coach Lee gets win No. 500

Robert E. Lee volleyball coach Melissa Lee (left) got win No. 500 on Thursday night at Varsity Gymnasium. Tyler ISD athletic director Rod Kaspar (right) presented her with a commemorative plaque after the game. (Herb Nygren Jr. | Tyler Morning Telegraph)

Melissa Lee wanted to get it over with and her team obliged.

Robert E. Lee swept past Rusk, 25-12, 25-21, 25-13, Thursday at REL Varsity Gymnasium to even its overall record to 6-6.

It was also Lee’s 500th career win as head coach.

“It’s nice to know that it’s done,” Lee said. “I wish it had happened last weekend, but I am glad that it was our first home game and I can do it here. It actually worked out OK, even though I didn’t like (losing those other six).”

Lee began her seventh season with the Lady Raiders needing six victories to surpass the 500-win mark. REL started fast, winning its first four, but a few setbacks followed by a three-game skid created Thursday’s opportunity.

It was REL’s third successive match without Mallory Kuechle. The returning All-East Texas outside hitter became ill last weekend and remains questionable for the Lady Raiders’ next match Tuesday at Hallsville.

No Kuechle meant others had to pick up the slack at the net. Senior Alexis Crowder and junior Rebekah Bowden responded. Crowder notched five kills, two aces and a stuff block with Bowden finishing with five kills and six blocks.

“It was really important to us because we’ve played the last three games and lost all of them and we wanted to get that win (for coach Lee),” said Bowden, a 6-0 middle blocker who had five blocks alone in the third set.

“We’re missing our lead hitter, so we had to get together and make it happen.”

Senior Melissa Menard finished with 11 assists and two aces as REL combined for a season-best nine aces in the match. On the defensive side of things, sophomore Tayler Winchester tallied 20 digs. Gentry Townsend had five digs to go along with a team-high three aces.

Rusk (5-5) stopped itself with unforced errors. The Lady Eagles finished with 29.

Shayla Townsend and Gabby Willis both finished with five kills apiece for Rusk in a losing cause.

The Lady Raiders cruised to victory in the opening set, thanks to two aces by Menard and another from Crowder and Jaina Giddens.

Bowden and Crowder also took turns pounding away at the net as REL turned a 9-9 score into a 22-10 runaway.

“Alexis really came on hitting really well and up at the net; Rebekah was just blocking everything,” Lee said.

Game 2 see-sawed back and forth until an emphatic kill by Crowder swung the momentum and REL never relinquished it.

Rusk had used an 8-3 surge to turn what had been a comfortable 18-13 REL advantage into a 21-21 score.

Crowder received a quick set and smashed it down the middle to break Rusk’s serve.

“She came up with a big hit at a big time and that helped us get through that second game without (letting them even it up),” Lee said.

Lee won the next three points to close out the set and, thanks to Bowden’s blocking in the third set, used a 14-0 run to help close out the match.

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Robert E. Lee 3, Rusk 0

Rusk122113

Robert E. Lee252525

KILLS LEADERS — RU: Gabby Willis, 5; Shayla Townsend, 5. LEE: Alexis Crowder, 5; Rebekah Bowden, 5.

DIGS LEADERS — LEE: Tayler Winchester, 20; Gentry Townsend, 5.

ASSISTS LEADERS — RU: Juliann Bowling 7. LEE: Melissa Menard, 11.

BLOCKS LEADERS — RU: Bowling, 1; Townsend, 1; Chelsie Daniels, 1. LEE: Bowden, 6; Kenshai Moseley, 1; Caroline Lynch, Crowder.

ACES LEADERS — LEE: Townsend, 3; Crowder, 2; Menard, 2.

RECORDS — Rusk 0-3; Robert E. Lee 6-6.

JV SCORE — Lee d. Rusk, 25-13, 25-11.

FRESHMEN SCORES — Rusk d. Lee Red, 25-17, 19-25, 25-20; Rusk d. Lee White, 26-24, 25-21.

NEXT UP — Robert E. Lee at Hallsville, 6 p.m. Tuesday.

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