Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
Just about this time last season, the Bay volleyball team began putting things together and played some of its best volleyball down the stretch.
Don't look now, but here come the Rockets again.
Bay, despite a rough spot to end the third set, used a strong defense and a diverse offensive attack to down visiting Lakewood 25-17, 25-23, 23-25, 25-15 Tuesday night at The Launch Pad. The win evened the Rockets' season record at 7-7 and moved them past the Rangers in the West Shore Conference standings at 4-5.
"For whatever reason, the second time through the conference is where we start to shine," said Bay head coach Katie McCarthy.
"We're really jelling together as a team and working out those unforced errors that we don't want to have," McCarthy said. "We just came off a good weekend where we won two of three at the Independence tournament. We played really well, so we're peaking at the right time.
"Hopefully we can just keep rolling from here," she said.
But it was no easy task for the Rockets as Lakewood, another young team with three sophomores in the starting rotation, held its own through the first two sets.
Three kills from senior outside hitter Laura Wilson gave Bay a slim 12-9 lead early in the first set. The Rangers stayed close, trailing just 20-17 on thanks to kills from senior outside hitter Emily Marek and junior middle Alex Tubbs. But three unforced errors and a pair of kills by Bay junior McKenna Coyle closed things out for the Rockets.
In the second set, the Rangers had a chance to pull out a win as Marek killed off a Bay overpass. But the Rockets answered with a tip kill by sophomore middle Chloe Koz and a nifty dump play from senior setter Megan Lowery to get the win and take a 2-0 lead.
"Unforced errors have been an issue for us this season," admitted Lakewood head coach Jeff Schaef.
"If we're in-system, we do good things," Schaef said. "But when we're not, we're not so lucky. Our passing has been a problem. We have some youth on this team, and it's a growing process right now.
"In that third set, our serving came together and we had some aggressive hitting. But right now, things go in spurts for us," he said.
In that third set, Schaef's Rangers found themselves close again as they trailed Bay 23-21. Sophomore Gabby Wine nailed a kill format he outside, then fellow sophomore Amelia Richardson pounded one down on a slide to tie things up at 23-all. After a Bay timeout, Richardson registered her third kill of the set.
Wine forced a fourth set when to put away a Bay overpass off a Kayla Sadeckas serve.
"That's our age sometimes," said McCarthy about her team's late lapse in the third set.
"I felt we kept trying to overcome it," McCarthy continued. "Most of the match, we were leading by at least a couple of points, so we didn't have to fight from behind. In game three, things just kind of got away from us.
"We came out in the fourth set and went up 10-3, which was exactly where we wanted to be," she said.
The Rockets jumped out to that lead on a pair of Nora Ziebarth kills and a block kill from the combination of Ziebarth and Coyle. Throw in three more Ranger errors, and Lakewood called a timeout down 10-3.
A kill by Wine had Lakewood knocking on the door at 20-14, but another kill by Ziebarth sparked a 5-1 run that closed out the set and the match for the Rockets.
For the match, Coyle led the way with 17 kills, while Wilson, Ziebarth and Koz each chipped in with nine.
"I don't think we have a weak hitter on the court," Lowery said. "I like to move the ball around to all of them because I know they are all capable of getting a kill."
"I feel like we have five great hitters out there at all times," McCarthy said. "That helps us because we're not just feeding the ball to one kid all the time. If somebody makes an error, we can go to somebody else.
"Our outsides had a great night. That's the most kills McKenna's ever had in a varsity match so far. She's only a junior, so we're excited about that.
Lowery went on to say that her young teammates were making big strides of late, and that helping them remind her of her first varsity season.
"It's really weird for Laura and I because we both started on varsity as sophomores," Lowery said. "We were always at the young end of the team, and now we're the older ones. So yes, we know what it's like for them.
"I think our younger girls have the skills," Lowery said They just need a little more confidence. Overall, we're learning to finish. We played well at the beginning, but once we got into the 20s we would slow down a bit.
"But I think right now we're starting to get past that and continuing our momentum so we can finish the games," she added.
McCarthy also felt her team was making progress in another key area.
"We've been really working on the mental part of our game," McCarthy said. "We really work on coming out and focusing on each individual point and not trying to see the whole big picture.
"We want to focus on winning each point, and I think the girls were able to do that tonight." she said.
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Click on the cameras below to view Larry's photos and video highlights from this match: