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Highland came into their regional matchup with Louisa-Muscatine having not lost a set to the Falcons and nothing changed Monday night at Highland High School. The Huskies rolled to a three set victory (25-11, 25-14, 25-11).
Despite the margin of victory, the Huskies know that they can, and they need, to do better if they are going to advance further in the regional tournament.
“I think we started off with a bang, then kind of fizzled in the middle. I think we got back into our bad habits of tipping and kind of got a little lazy, I think, in the second game,” assessed Head Coach Chris Rath. “We picked it up in the second game towards the end, started playing our game again and in the third game we started hitting the ball again.
That’s our ball. We have to hit the ball. We have to get the ball down and we have to be aggressive.”
Her players agreed. “I’d say we definitely played better,” said junior Sydney Black. The goal tonight was to run plays and work on—“
“Hitting,” supplied junior Bailey Harmston. “Our team we play next, they’re going to be a lot harder, so we have to get the ball down more.”
Highland jumped out to an early 6-1 lead, after surrendering the opening point of the match, with Kelsey Hora at the service line. Hora utilized a deep push for a couple key points in the set, which her coach says illustrates how well she sees the court.
“She does a good job of reading the court,” said Rath. “A lot of times she’ll find that hole and be able to hit that hole, which helps out a lot, because she’ll hit to the spot where they’re just not covering.”
Black also had a strong night at the service line, helping to widen the gap by pushing the team’s lead to as big as 13, putting the ball in play for the Huskies’ 9-0 run. Black was undeterred by the Louisa-Muscatine timeouts at 11-4 and 16-4, continuing the run until 17-5.
When asked if teams calling timeouts to break up her serving bothered her, Black said, “Not really. It kind of motivates me. It makes me think, ‘Oh, wow. Our team has kind of intimidated them.’ They’re taking that timeout for a reason.”
During the run, Black was also assisted by a good net presence, including a block by Harmston, one of two on the night. The Huskies were dominant in bunches at the net, but Harmston can’t explain the ebbs and flows in their effectiveness at the net. “I don’t really know why it happens, but we either don’t talk, or we all talk. That’s kind of how it rolls.”
After coasting the rest of the set to a 25-11 advantage, they came out a little sluggish in set two, trailing by as much as three points before a 6-0 run gave them a 10-6 lead. Louisa-Muscatine charged back with four straight points to tie things at 10s and forcing a Highland time out.
The message from coach was simple, “Get our butts moving,” said Harmston.
Rath said she told the team to “Play your game. The thing is, sometimes I think we play to the level of the team we’re playing and we started doing the tipping, we started falling into their footsteps.”
Properly galvanized, the Huskies would close out on a 10-1 run. Using a 14-2 run early in set three, the Huskies dispatched of their opponents with relative ease in the final set.
Alyson Stokes led the team in kills with six, followed by the trio of Hora, Harmston, and Brylee Carolan with five.
“Getting a kill is like my favorite thing to do,” said Harmston. “That’s why I love volleyball.”
“We’ve got to keep all the teams thinking,” said Rath of the multi-pronged attack. “We don’t want to just set the same person over and over, we want to get multiple attacks from multiple people.” She says the team has also implemented some new plays to hopefully keep opponents wary.
Amy Schnoebelen led the team in assists with seven and Murphy Beinhart followed with six.
The victory sets up a showdown with #8 North Cedar (32-5). Highland is 1-3 against teams ranked in the final Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union standings, splitting meetings with New London and falling twice to Mediapolis.
“Moving our feet and getting our hitting down,” will be a focus in the preparation, according to Black.
Rath echoed the junior’s sentiments, saying the team needs to “get back to our game. We’ve got to keep our feet moving, we’ve got to hit hard, and we’ve got to have confidence in our girls. I think that’s the big thing is they need to get confident again and start hitting the ball hard again.”
The Huskies will look to take down North Cedar in Clarence Monday at 7 p.m. and take advantage of the fact that they won’t have played a game in 11 days.