The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

Sports

October 5, 2012

Hilltoppers sweep up Blue Devils in two games

BISMARCK —  There’s no greater feeling than beating your biggest rival, and to do it in convincing fashion might make it even sweeter. The Schlarman Academy Hilltoppers volleyball team has big goals in mind this season, even above winning the Vermilion Valley Conference.

Though winning a VVC title has always been on the Hilltoppers’ list of goals, the Bismarck-Henning Blue Devils have kept a strong hold on the conference winning the last five titles, and six overall.

But for the first time in over a decade, the Hilltoppers gained a decided edge over their rival, and swept the season series against the Blue Devils with a 25-15, 25-18 win on Thursday.

In the first meeting this season on September 6, Schlarman Academy dropped the first set, but responded by taking the final two.

“I think we just came out with more intensity,” Schlarman Academy sophomore Laura Gross said. “Obviously the first time we played, we lost the first set and weren’t intense. This time, we just kept our communication and our intensity up.

“We were just seeing the court better tonight,” she continued. “I think that’s one improvement we’ve had this season and we’ve worked on in practice.”

The Hilltoppers (14-1 overall, 9-0 in the VVC) jumped out to a commanding 10-1 lead in the opening set, and didn’t allow the Blue Devils to score consecutive points until pulling to within 12-6 on a kill by Brittany Spicer (assisted by Lauren McKenzie), and an ace from Jessica Hall.

Schlarman Academy freshman Shelby Mascari and junior Janelle Marion — who celebrated her birthday on Thursday — each served for six points in the set.

“It’s good to keep the serve, and I think any time you keep the serve, it really helps,” said Gross, who also recorded five service points. “Coming out 10-1, that was really good and it was a confidence builder.”

Perhaps what Schlarman Academy coach Heidi Crane was most pleased with in the win was never showing signs of letting up. Staying aggressive has been a focus of the Hilltoppers this season. With four matches and two tournaments remaining before the beginning of regional play, Crane hopes her squad continues to show improvement, rather than peaking early.

“We have (been stressing) being smarter, playing at the net, and knowing that you need to make sure that when you’re going up there — I don’t want them to get caught up in a tipping game,” Crane said. “We still kind of fall back on that. If we make an error, it starts to volley a little bit back and forth. I try to stress that, ‘You guys are aggressive, you guys can jump. You need to put the ball away.’”

And they did to the tune of 24 total kills in the match. Gross put down 11, including six in the first set, and Jordan Marganski had nine. Marganski also had a match-high 15 assists, followed by Gross’ seven. Ella Black had 10 digs while Sierra Bell finished with 10, and Gross and Marganski finished with four and two blocks respectively.

“They’re such an athletic, jumping team that you can’t give them any free balls,” Bismarck-Henning coach Susan Kentner said. “They’re going to make you pay, and you’re constantly going to be back on defense.”

It was only the third time this season the Blue Devils (11-6, 6-3) suffered a two-set loss, and marked their second lowest scoring match of the season. Bismarck-Henning had previously been swept by St. Joseph-Ogden and Rockville (Ind.), scoring a total of only 33 points against St. Joseph-Ogden, and 32 against Rockville.

While Bismarck-Henning coach Susan Kentner never wants her team to suffer a loss, she said the overall competitiveness of the match might be worth learning from.

“After this kind of loss, I went in and talked to the girls about how this was the kind of game that we needed to have,” Kentner said. “Not a loss by any means, but a competitive game. A competitive game where we could see what we could do.

“I told them, ‘You have to come out of this match understanding the things that we need to work on.’ You never want to lose at home, and right now Schlarman’s at the top of the conference and they’ve always been a competitive opponent for us. You don’t want to lose to competitive opponents, but you have to take something positive out of it, and understand what you need to work on.”

Bismarck-Henning is scheduled to host Hoopeston Area on Tuesday and travel to Milford on Thursday before defending its run of eight consecutive Vermilion County Tournament titles.

Schlarman Academy is set to host Armstrong-Potomac Tuesday in a crucial match with conference implications on the line. Armstrong-Potomac trails Schlarman Academy by two matches with four remaining.

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