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By MIKE CAPSHAW
Bubble gum is essential for Chiefland volleyball coach Tammy Arrington anytime her team plays Williston. On Thursday in the Chiefland High gymnasium, she nervously chewed and chewed and chewed as her Lady Indians edged the Lady Red Devils 3-2 with a thrilling 15-13 win in the final game.
So how many pieces of gum did she chew during the two-plus hours of volleyball?
"One," Arrington said with a laugh. "And this one here is about shot so I need another one!
"It's nerve racking."
The final match summed up the entire evening as the largest margin was two points - Williston led 9-7 at the midway point — before Chiefland (11-2 overall) recorded the final three points for the victory. It avenged a 3-2 loss against Williston (13-4) in a tournament in Bell on Sept. 17.
Close games against an in-county rival is why the gum is needed.
"Anytime we play Williston, you know going in it's going to be like this," Arrington said. "They're great competitors. They always bring their 'A' game. It's been happening like that for years. They win one and then we win one.
"Anytime we play them, you can't take anything for granted. They've got some very talented players that just know how to get it done and they work well as a team. They play smart and are very strategic in their play and we just have to be as strategic as they are.
"This time, it came down on our side, but that could've went either way."
Williston coach Kimberly Nivala echoed Arrington's statement.
"Every time we face Chiefland, it ends up like this," said Nivala, who's in her sixth year as WHS head coach. "There's a rivalry there. We toss back and forth who wins and who loses and it's always very, very competitive. We just came up two points shy on this one."
As with any back-and-forth rivalry, a mutal respect is formed between the two teams.
"Chiefland makes plays that other teams don't make," Nivala said. "They'd say, 'Oh, that' ball is way too far to go for.' The rules are 'bleacher-to-bleacher, wall-to-wall,' and we all nod our head and say, 'yea, OK,' like that won't happen. But when you play Chiefland, it's litterally bleacher-to-bleacher and wall-to-wall, period."
An energetic crowd turned out for the game, and both coaches noted how fans certainly got their money worth. "I told you we were going to entertain tonight," Nivala said.
A kill by CHS senior Taylore Fuller, a University of Florida softball pledge, gave the Lady Indians' their first lead (10-9) of the final match. Appropriately, Fuller ended the game with another kill.
Nivala joked that she's figured out a way to keep Fuller from beating her team.
"We wait for the school year to end and she graduates (with a laugh)," Nivala said. "I umpire softball, too, so I know that whole Fuller family. So before the game I said to her, 'Yeah, I'm going to need you not to play very well tonight.' (Fuller) said, 'We were just talking about the same thing, I was going to come over and tell you not to play very well tonight!'
"She's a great kid. Athletes like her don't come around very often. She just has flow and finesse on the court that if every coach could have players like that, then we would all be fortunate."
Nivala applauded the play of senior team captains Haley Beckum and Katie Casperson, while also pointing out that sophomore Chelsea Dola "had probably the best game of her career."
On the CHS side, Arrington praised her entire team, but was especially pleased to see T.J. Arrington and Mychayla Franklin come out of what she described as "hitting slumps" with solid performances.
Arrington said her squad had been struggling in recent weeks, beginning with the earlier loss vs. Williston and then in a 3-2 home loss against Trenton on Sept. 22.
"The girls had kind of lost their edge. Their little spark," Arrington said. "We conditioned hard on Monday and went hard Tuesday. Then I gave them (Wednesday) off because we had been practicing so hard for quite a while, and they came back fresh."
For Williston, the loss served as a tune-up for the upcoming league slate. This week, the Lady Red Devils had games against Santa Fe on Monday, Interlachen on Tuesday and Fort White on Thursday.
"I told the girls after the game that this is a good competition for us going into the bunch of games in a row against our district," Nivala said. "We come from a tough district to start with and so we always like playing games like this.
"Obviously, we would have liked to come out with a win instead of a loss, but it gets us prepared for our district."
Arrington was excited to see so many turn out for the rivalry game, which included a raucous student section.
"We want people to come out and support us and we want to pack this gym," Arrington said. "We want people to get excited about volleyball and games like this is exactly what does it."