County rivals Holton and Royal Valley clash in tight contests on the volleyball court
Both Holton coach Janelle Noel and Royal Valley coach Denise Visocsky were quick to point out before the season how much of a dogfight Big Seven competition could be.
Never did their words ring truer than when the rival Wildcats and Panthers met on the court for a pair of matches in Holton on Tuesday. The visitors took the first set of the night, but Holton responded and held off Royal Valley in the remaining, highly contested sets to pick up two key league wins (25-27, 25-20, 25-21 and 25-17, 25-21).
“Every time we play Royal Valley it’s a tough, intense game no matter which team is up or down. We’re always playing them very intense,” Noel said.
The Panthers may have been feeling a little extra pressure as well, as middle hitter Anna Johnson was sidelined with a knee injury on Tuesday and will be out at least a week. While Mary Broxterman filled in admirably, Visocsky noted her team may have tried to push a little harder missing a key cog like Johnson.
In the beginning, that paid off in spades as the Panthers squeaked out a win in the opening set, but little inconsistencies began to hamper Royal Valley after that. The team rallied in the final two sets, but a 16-5 deficit in the decisive third set of the first match proved too much to overcome.
“We just cannot dig ourselves a hole. If we could’ve stayed right with them the whole game, we could’ve won that easily. We just need to make sure that we focus all the way through,” Visocsky said.
Meanwhile, it was something as simple as serving that helped the Wildcats loosen up in the end, according to Noel, as Megan Rhule, Hayley Thompson and Shari Riley all had key stretches in the final sets of the first match.
“As we were playing intense and we were serving at their back row, I could tell their libero was getting frustrated and they were getting frustrated and that kind of picked us up a little bit and got us playing a little bit better,” Noel said.
Lauren Leavendusky was also key offensively at the net, Noel said, and came up with some big kills that helped Holton close out the win in the opening match.
To start the second match, momentum belonged to Royal Valley, though, and that has started to change since Kate Hanson and Ali Bryan have been worked into the opening rotation. Such was the case on Tuesday and both were a key part of helping the Panthers to an early lead, including Hanson blocking an attack attempt by Thompson.
Holton quickly turned things around, though, as Riley stepped back to serve and came up big again. The team quickly went from down 6-5 to up 13-7, getting two aces from Riley during that stretch, and Noel noted much of that turnaround was mental.
“I think just doing those good things we stayed up, we stayed positive, we stayed intense and that helped us to get in the other team’s head a little bit. Then, all of a sudden, we just couldn’t do anything wrong,” Noel said.
One thing both teams struggled with was blocking at the net, as neither the Panthers nor Wildcats could keep them in bounds. While that helps streamline the HHS offense, Holton still remained in control and a couple of service errors by Royal Valley late allowed the home team to take the first set of the second match.
“When it comes down to clutch time, you need to relax even more and not put that added pressure,” Visocsky said. “I think sometimes when we get really close, especially when they’re close to game point, we put that extra pressure on ourselves. I think we just need to take a deep breath at those times, relax and go out and play.”
Again, Royal Valley managed to take an early lead in the second set as Holton’s balanced offense became a little erratic in the final set of the night and the Wildcats started to put a little added pressure on themselves after a strong start.
Eventually the Wildcats went back to playing their game and put it all together to close out the match. Thompson (five kills, three aces) continued her offensive onslaught at the net and while serving and fellow seniors Holly Karn and Mackenzie Moore got in on the fun as well. Karn had some key kills late in the second set, while Moore delivered the final points of the night to secure the sweep for Holton.
“As a team, and those seniors especially, we’re just playing so much smarter, placing the ball where it should be and keeping that intensity,” Noel said. “We make mistakes, but we’re doing a lot better and not letting one mistake turn into 10.”
Defensively, Noel noted Courtney Boswell and Ashlyn Weilert were rocks in the back row again, as the two combined for 11 digs in that second match, while Visocsky noted Carley Shane had a solid night in the same respect for the Panthers. Sarah Beam also contributed all over, finishing the second match with seven kills and eight digs.
The Wildcats (21-10) are now off until a tournament in Sabetha on Saturday, Oct. 17, while the Panthers (10-14) will be back in action at the Marysville tournament this coming Saturday. Matches will start at 9 a.m. and Visocsky said she hopes her team will be fueled by the battle with Holton going into the weekend.
“Hopefully we can keep that intensity up. We have a tendency to slide after a big game, so hopefully we can take our intensity and do well at Marysville, too,” Visocsky said.
Oct. 6, 2015
Holton def. Royal Valley: 25-27, 25-20 and 25-21
Holton def. Royal Valley: 25-17 and 25-21
Holton def. Royal Valley: 25-17 and 27-25
Royal Valley def. Holton: 26-24, 15-25 and 25-23
Holton def. Royal Valley: 25-15 and 25-9
Holton def. Royal Valley: 25-18 and 25-17