Lady Cats push Paoli, fall in 3
Playing with heart helped North Harrison push Class 2A No. 13 Paoli to tight finishes in the final two games of their Monday night matchup.
In the end, the experienced Lady Rams pulled out the win 25-17, 25-23, 25-23 in Ramsey despite the strong effort from North Harrison.
‘We are very young,’ said first-year coach Alexis Speer. ‘There is nothing but learning going on, but, going against a team that is ranked, I thought we played our hearts out. I couldn’t ask for much more in that second and third game.’
North Harrison wasn’t much of a threat in game one, but midway through game two the Lady Cats started to click. After Paoli’s Sophia Sears put down one of her 17 kills to put her team up 15-8, the Lady Cats saw a surge in the offense.
Kendra Lambert and Maddie Janes put down back-to-back kills. They were followed by a well-placed ace from Janes to cut the lead to four.
Paoli surged ahead with additional kills from Sears, but a winning tip over the net to an open spot by setter Jill Book aided North Harrison. Two Lambert kills, along with a Paoli error, drew North Harrison within two, 19-17.
North Harrison eventually tied the game at 21 behind consecutive spikes from Brittany Rudolph and Bethany Wiley. The teams then went back and forth on points until Paoli’s first game-point opportunity. Then, Sears dug a serve that cleared the net to an open space on the floor.
‘We made some good passes on Paoli’s serves, great sets, but we’re having trouble putting the ball down on the floor,’ Speer said. ‘Paoli had a big block coming against us, and we got a little intimidated. I think if our girls just swing hard, it could have been a different ballgame.’
Looking for ways around the blocks of Paoli’s Kennedy Nelson, who exceeds 6 feet, and the impressive vertical of Sears, North Harrison mixed in tips and passes to open spots.
‘They are starting to use the court and be smart,’ Speer said of the Lady Cats. ‘When I first started with them, it was swing, swing, swing. We weren’t using open areas on the court. We are using those areas and putting the ball there. We want to swing for big kills, but you have to be able to tip to open spots and throw the other team off. It happened tonight, and we saw success.’
North Harrison raced out to a sizable lead in game three. Brooke Lamon, Carlie Burson and Rudolph spread kills amongst each other along with a Kendall Frantz ace to allow the Lady Cats a 10-5 advantage.
Paoli, however, stormed back by scoring five unanswered points. After the success, Paoli was marred with miscues, leading to a Lambert winner to put North Harrison back ahead, 18-13.
Chipping away at the Lady Cats lead, Paoli used blocks and kills from Nelson to rally back. With North Harrison ahead 23-19, Paoli scored six straight to close out the match. Sears led the way, providing the final four points with either a solo block or kills.
‘We showed we could have had them,’ Speer said. ‘This game shows how hard we are capable of playing. I try to tell the girls that they should be proud of bruises. Get on the floor and get those bruises going after the ball. Our back-line should be saying, ‘Bring it on’ when they see one of the state leaders in kills (Sophia Sears) across the net. That attitude was there tonight. They weren’t afraid.’
Speer said the start of the season has been a smooth transition and credits having a great group of girls to work with.
‘We still need to work on communication and having fun,’ she said. ‘Once we get those two, everything will fall in place and we’ll be a team to watch out for.’