LOVINGSTON — Katie Cheape pumped her fist in the air and let out a scream of jubilation as the rest of Nelson County’s volleyball team gathered around her in celebration.
The pink ribbons worn on their ponytails and sporting the word “Alexis” and the number “9,” bounced in the air as they met in a circle following a convincing three-set victory Tuesday night over Amherst. The group of 10 played with poise and determination, even with the 11th member of the team not on the court.
Nelson opened its volleyball season without senior outside hitter Alexis Murphy, who has been missing since Aug. 3, when family believed the 17-year-old Shipman teen planned to drive to Lynchburg to get hair extensions for her senior portrait.
“We’re playing for Alexis, so it was great just getting out here, playing as a team and working together,” Nelson senior outside hitter Brianna Clarkson said after recording a game-high 14 digs.
“She’s always on our minds, but we want to win, for her to come home and have an undefeated team.”
The day might have seemed longer for the team than it actually was with increased media attention at the school during the afternoon hours.
It wasn’t much different than the attention received following Murphy’s disappearance. The volleyball players began practice a few days after she went missing and classes started on Aug. 13.
“For the last three and a half weeks, we’ve been dealing with a lot of adversity, a lot of things going on and a lot of people giving us a lot of attention,” Nelson County coach Vicki Crawford said. “They’ve been through it a couple of times with the scrimmages, so our mindset in practice is stay the course, stay focused, we have a job to do and I think that’s what they did.”
The Amherst players wore pink ribbons in their hair and also sported pink headbands, the color representing Alexis’ favorite color. Also, the banner that Timberlake Christian School made for Nelson during a recent volleyball scrimmage was still on the wall in the gym.
It reads, “TCS team is praying. Find Alexis Murphy.”
“I think it shows the amount of support that we have from other people around and that people are continuing to keep her in their thoughts and prayers,” Nelson County assistant coach Jasmine Murphy said, “and that’s a good thing.”
Jasmine Murphy is Alexis’ second cousin and a former standout volleyball player at Nelson and Lynchburg College.
She is in her first season as an assistant on Crawford’s staff after serving as an assistant coach at LC.
“Being able to get out here with the girls — they actually started work the same week Alexis went missing — so volleyball is a good distraction for me,” Jasmine Murphy said. “Being around the girls helps because a lot of them actually play sports with her and just seeing them is comfort enough for me.”
Nelson opened the match by scoring the first four points before Amherst (0-1) rallied to take a brief lead. The Governors (1-0) won the first set, 25-21, before cruising to win the second, 25-13.
The Lancers held a 17-9 lead in the third set when Crawford called a timeout to get her team to focus on reclaiming control of the match.
Her team responded by closing on a 16-2 run to finish out the final set, 25-19, displaying a poise that showed how loose and relaxed the team was, even with all of the surrounding distractions.
“I think they did a really good job on that, actually,” Crawford said. “I think we’re still looking for strong leadership out here, they’re still sort of searching around to see who is going to be the leader and some of them are starting to step up. It’s coming together.
“[Alexis] was probably going to be the main leader because she was going to be the power hitter,” Crawford added. “We miss Alexis, we wish she was here, but bottom line is we have to continue to focus and play. It is what it is and we now have to play volleyball.”