HARROGATE, Tenn. — When citing her favorite moments in her volleyball career, Lincoln Memorial University senior Abby Cash, naturally, cited winning back-to-back state championships at Miami East High School.
But the one she focused on the most was a moment that neither she nor younger sister, fellow Miami East graduate Sam Cash, thought would ever be possible coming out of high school.
“I think of the very first day back, we were working on our timing and tempo with each other, and it just was connecting and it wasn’t this and it wasn’t that,” Abby said. “Then finally, there was one play where we connected — and we both just looked at each other, and Sam was like, ‘That’s just like high school. That’s just like high school. That’s what we have to keep doing.’ After that, we connected. It was fine. It was just that one moment we needed.”
“She’s right, that one practice, nothing was working and then finally we got one, and it was the bomb,” Sam said. “It was one of those things where it just took one to pull everything back together.”
It took even more than that to put the two on the same court together again — but now that they’ve been reunited, the Lincoln Memorial Railsplitter volleyball team is discovering just what “like old times” means to the Cash sisters, senior setter Abby and sophomore right-side hitter Sam, enjoying an 11-2 record, 8-1 in the South Atlantic Conference.
The duo won state championships at Miami East in 2011 and 2012, with the second coming in Abby’s senior season. She left for Lincoln Memorial, while Sam graduated a year later and left for Tennessee Tech. It seemed the two were destined to never play together again.
“Absolutely not,” Abby said when asked if she thought they’d get the chance again. “I thought that Sam was going to be very successful there (at Tennessee Tech) and that my senior year was the last year I’d get to play with her. I was super surprised when she said she didn’t enjoy it there, and I immediately called my coach and said ‘Hey, there’s someone that you need to look at.’”
Sam had health problems her freshman season at Tennessee Tech, and it cast a shadow on her entire time, there, leaving her looking for a new college.
“During preseason, I went to the ER a couple nights in a row, and they couldn’t figure out what was wrong,” she said. “I had to have simple outpatient surgery, and I got a lot of infections after. I was taking 12 pills at one point, and it was miserable. It kind of ruined the whole experience, and I didn’t want to be there. Didn’t enjoy it. And I transferred here to be closer to family. My sister’s here, and it’s more of a family atmosphere on the team. And we have a couple other players that went through similar situations, so we all relate to each other very well.
“I was excited to have another chance with Abby. He didn’t sign my release, so I had to sit a year, which sucked. But in high school, I was never on the sideline, so it was weird to see the game from that angle and see Abby setting other hitters. Seeing where coaches were telling them to do something where I would’ve been like ‘no, you’re wrong’ … but they were right. It was a growing experience. It helped me understand the game a little better from both ends.”
And the entire team has felt the change in dynamic and attitude — and seen the results of the Cash sisters being together again this season.
“It’s definitely been our most successful, and not just because of our record,” Abby said. “But because as a team we’ve grown, and we have this bond on the court that’s really hard to compete with. We all know each other’s moves and what’s going to happen next — it’s a connection that we’ve never had. I’m really happy with how that’s come around.
“It was definitely difficult (that first year without Sam). Coming out of high school, we always had this mentality when we played together that we hated to lose. We wanted to win, sure, but we absolutely hated to lose and weren’t used to it. Sam was a factor on the court that, she was competitive, she had that drive. Coming into college, I didn’t have a teammate that was like that, that wanted to win as much as I did. So having her back is a big reason — we have someone else on the floor showing our teammates that, hey, we’re good enough to win. Hate to lose. And it’s rubbing off on everybody. She has this contagious effect that we haven’t had.”
“Yeah, I can’t stand losing,” Sam said. “Looking back on our state teams, everybody was that way. Abby’s definitely the same way. I love it when teams come back at us, because I can give it right back — and then it’s a fun game. We played Tusculum last year, and they kicked us in the teeth, not because they were better players, but they hated to lose. We played them this year, and we beat them. I think our coach liked to see some players with some grit, fighting back this year.”
The numbers don’t lie, either.
Abby hit a career milestone, becoming only the third player in Lincoln Memorial history to collect 3,000 assists and 1,000 digs for her career. She currently leads the team in assists (431), aces (14) and digs (147) this season. She was also named SAC Specialist of the Week on Sept. 13 after scoring 55 assists, 14 digs, three kills and three block assists in the Railsplitters’ five-set victory over Tusculum.
Sam, meanwhile, is second on the team in kills with 121 behind junior Kiera Holland’s 143, and she’s second in assists (45) and aces (nine) behind Abby. Her breakout game was against Anderson, where she became the first LMU player since 2012 to score a triple-double with 10 kills, 10 assists and 11 digs in what was at the time the team’s seventh straight win.
And while the team still has 17 more matches before the beginning of the SAC Tournament on Nov. 16, the two know that this really is their last chance to play together competitively — and are doing everything they can to make it count.
“You always hear that sisters are your first best friends. Well, mine was also my first life-long teammate,” Sam said. “It’ll be sad doing it alone again. Even though we both thought high school would be the last time, it’s definitely more real this time. We’re looking to keep our success rolling and do what we’ve always done together — winning.”
“I was excited. I was excited and I was nervous to have Sam coming back. I hadn’t played with her in a long time. I’d forgotten what it was like,” Abby said. “It absolutely does (feel great). I haven’t had a feeling like this since high school. My senior year’s been the best one so far. It’s a lot of laughs and new things to adjust to, but it’s hard to believe it’s my last year, honestly. I can’t believe how fast time has gone. It’s been fun, and I love my teammates. I wouldn’t change it.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.