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Caleb Turrentine / The Herald Elmore County's Mirriam Foster splits two ACA blockers for a kill.

There were plenty of goals the Elmore County volleyball team wanted to accomplish during last week’s busy stretch but the Panthers fell short in all of them. After falling to Benjamin Russell in a five-set thriller Wednesday, Elmore County turned around and lost to area rival Holtville for the first time since 2007.

“After we played Holtville, we had a team meeting with everyone and I told each person on the team what they learned from that experience,” ECHS coach Kim Moncrief said. “It was very productive. We need to work together better and play as a group.”

Leading that group throughout the week was Mirriam Foster who is a third-year starter. Despite the losses, she put together strong performances which included 12 kills on just 14 swings against Benjamin Russell to go along with three aces, one dig and one block. She followed that up by leading in kills again at Holtville.

“It can get frustrating but I know we are all trying our hardest,” Foster said. “We just have to keep pushing and play our best and then whatever happens happens. We have to know we played our hearts out.”

Foster has been the go-to hitter in Elmore County’s attack all season and Moncrief said that is helping grow the team’s confidence. Foster, who returned last year from a shoulder injury, is getting more looks from colleges than anyone else on the team and for good reason.

“She has a really good approach and a good eye for the ball,” Moncrief said. “We know we can get the ball to her and she can usually produce a kill for us or at least keep it in play. She makes good decisions and when we need that the most, she’s good at that.”

The Panthers attempted to rebound from their poor weeknight performances when they hosted their annual ECHS Block Party on Saturday. Foster jumped out to a great start to set the tone as the Panthers looked to make a return to the championship match.

Foster recorded 10 kills and two digs in the opening game against Park Crossing before taking some rare points off and finishing with just three kills and three aces in a win against Dadeville. The Panthers got a rematch with Park Crossing in the quarterfinals where Foster recorded seven more kills on just eight swings.

“We played a lot of really good teams today,” Foster said. “It may have been the hardest we have pushed ourselves this year and it made us stronger. That helps us last longer on the court.”

Elmore County ran into its strongest competition in the semifinals against Alabama Christian. Foster finished with four kills, totaling 24 for the tournament, but it was not enough as the Panthers fell short of their goal.

However, Foster continued to stay positive to the last point as the Panthers looked to her for leadership and encouragement in those tough matches.

“She tries to get in the mix with the other girls and always lets them know it’s never over,” Moncrief said. “She tries to get their heads in the right place. But it’s a whole team thing and she will tell you that too. Everyone has to keep each other up.”

Foster said it was the rest of the team that does a good job of keeping her spirits up but it is clear she has the positivity flowing for the Panthers on and off the court. And despite the team’s recent struggles, Foster still has high goals for the remainder of the season.

“We really want to go to state this year and I know we can do it,” Foster said. “It’s just a matter of playing as a team and we showed we can do that (Saturday) so I think we can be pretty successful.”

Elmore County bounced back with a straight-sets victory against Handley on Monday as they clinched home-court advantage for the area tournament. Foster finished with 12 kills and nine digs to help the Panthers to a victory.

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.