By Lisa Byers
Two days short of a year ago, Conneaut and Meadville converged at the newly renovated Conneaut Area Senior High gymnasium for the first Region 4 dual match.
Students from both schools were adorned in their school colors and excited to be a part of what would likely become a storied rivalry. But only one team and its entourage left that night happy. That was Meadville, which beat the then state-ranked Eagles in four sets. And the reason was pretty simple, according to Conneaut head coach Tim Schleicher.
“Serving and passing,” he said that night. “They served better than us. They were the aggressors. They hustled more than us. They were the better team. They earned it.”
Conneaut returned the favor Tuesday night.
Conneaut collected a total of 17 service aces and kept the Bulldogs out of rhythm offensively on its way to a 25-10, 25-10, 25-13 win over Meadville in the fourth running of the MASH-CASH Bash at the House of Thrills.
With the win, the all-time series is now knotted at 2-2. Conneaut and Meadville are also now tied for second place in Region 4 at 2-1. They share that spot with Crawford County foe Titusville.
“We did a nice job from the service line,” Schleicher said. “Usually that is reversed. We haven’t played (the Bulldogs) all that much, but we know they have always been a really strong serving team.
“To come in here … this is a big match. This is a big win for us. This is a tough place to play. We wanted to make sure we came in here and took care of our half of the floor. I thought we did that.”
The first game set the tone.
It was a close one initially. That was until a service error put the ball into the hands of Conneaut’s Challen Litwiler. And Litwiler, who normally does her damage at the net, stymied the Bulldogs on serve-receive. The senior picked the Bulldogs apart, tallying back-to-back-to-back aces, giving the Eagles a 10-4 advantage.
Conneaut’s next server, Nicole Pavolko, also had an ace. The it was Kristen Laird’s turn. She outdid them both with four straight aces to put the Eagles ahead 20-8.
Nineteen of the Eagles’ 25 points in the first set were scored off aces (eight) or Meadville miscues.
“It’s frustrating,” Meadville coach Tammy Webber said. “You don’t want to jump ship and say it’s over. You always want them to have that extra chance to try and dig themselves out. But we were having difficulty.”
The second set was much of the same. Once again it was a close game initially. But then again Meadville committed a service error that put the ball into the hands of Litwiler, who this time wracked up five aces to give Conneaut a 15-6 lead.
“We work on serving a lot in practice,” Litwiler said. “So it does pay off.
“But I know how Meadville felt on the other side. It’s frustrating when you get served off the court. Last year, when they had Monica Jackson and Leah Jones they served us off the court.”
Had the Eagles not been effective at the service line, it’s hard to tell how last night’s match would have went. On attack, Conneaut finished the night with 19 kills — just two more than it had in service aces.
Meadville finished with 18 kills.
Statistically for the Eagles (3-1, 2-1 Region 4), Litwiler finished with six kills, 10 digs, three blocks and eight aces. Kristen Baker, limited because of a Baker’s cyst on her knee, finished with six kills, six digs and three blocks.
Litwin added seven digs and two aces. Laird had five digs and four aces. Lindsey Shidemantle tallied four kills and two blocks. Allison Snider had three blocks. Mary Uplinger, making her second start at setter, tallied 16 assists.
Leading the way for Meadville (2-3, 2-1) was Emily Allen with five kills. Ellen Mook and Jordan Lynn, who left in the third set with an apparent ankle injury, finished with four kills each. Katie Newman dished out 15 assists. Alysha Kelyman tallied nine digs.