By Lisa Byers
On Thursday, the Conneaut girls volleyball team played its first dual match of the season. But already the Lady Eagles were treating the match as a must win.
See, on Saturday, the Lady Eagles opened the 2013 campaign with a loss to Fort LeBoeuf in the championship match of the Fort LeBoeuf Tournament. And according to head coach Tim Schleicher, that loss didn’t sit well despite it coming against the defending PIAA Class AA champions, who many expect to repeat this season.
“They were very disappointed, very emotional,” Schleicher said. “I told them the next practice, I said, ‘You guys were so disappointed, so upset and this was really a preseason tournament.’ But that’s how much it meant to them; that is how much this season means to them right now.”
Needless to say, the atmosphere at last night’s non-region clash between McDowell and Conneaut felt more like it was an end of season match with playoff implications or even titles on the line. It was loud and it was fierce.
And in the end, the Lady Eagles (1-0) turned those frowns rightside up with an emotional 25-17, 25-17, 22-25, 25-23 win over the McDowell Trojans (1-1).
“After losing (the Fort LeBoeuf Tournament) it was kind of an eye opener,” CASH senior defensive specialist Kristen Laird said. “We have to get ready to push. We have to get ready for that at districts. It made us push harder at practice.
“We’re all focused and working hard toward our goal.”
Conneaut still has a ways to go to reach that ultimate goal of winning a state championship, but showed in a number of ways last night that they are ready for the challenge, particularly during the fourth and final set.
In the first set, Conneaut and McDowell played pretty evenly throughout with neither team able to take more than a two-point lead until late when Julie Vickers stepped to the service line for the Eagles to help give them a 19-13 lead.
The Eagles rolled from there and used that momentum to take the second set by an identical mark. But McDowell was not finished.
“They came out of nowhere,” Laird said. “They are a really good team, but we got in kind of a lull in the third game. It was nice to go to that fourth set, go neck and neck and come out strong.”
McDowell forced Conneaut into a number of miscues in the third set. In fact, four of the final seven points scored by the Trojans in the third set were on Conneaut errors. It was McDowell’s tenacity at the net, though, that ended the game and sparked a 4-0 run in the opening set to put the Eagles in trouble.
A kill by Challen Litwiler ended that run and ignited a 7-0 run by the Eagles to put Conneaut up 7-4 and back in the battle. And battle is exactly what it was.
Just like the opening set, neither Conneaut or McDowell were able to take a lead larger than three points throughout. The Eagles had a 20-17 lead, but saw it evaporate quickly and McDowell take a 21-20 advantage.
The Trojans didn’t relinguish the lead until Vickers delivered another ace to put the Eagles up 23-22. McDowell tied it back up but Conneaut finished it out to take the win.
“We’re always excited to come here and play CASH,” McDowell coach Jamie Soboleski said. “I just don’t think we were ready from the start. We were kind of slow the first two games; and even the entire match we were missing serves. We’d get the momentum and then miss a serve. And when you’re playing a good team, you can’t lose momentum like that or make errors.
“I was proud that they came back the last two games, but it’s just not enough when you’re playing a good team.”
Leading the way for the Eagles, who by the way fell to LeBoeuf 27-25, 25-22 in that aforementioned championship match on Saturday, was Litwiler with 24 kills and 16 digs. Kristen Baker added 11 kills and 18 digs. Aliya Hutman had 31 assists, Laird 10 digs, Kimmy Litwin 19 digs, Angie Vickers four kills and two blocks, and Meghan Thomas three blocks.
Kirstin Platz led the Trojans with 11 kills, followed by Angela Yost with 10. Hannah Washek had 15 digs and Leah Vensel 28 assists.