By Brad Morris
When push came to shove in the second and third sets on Tuesday, the balance and experience of Circleville made the difference as it swept host Logan Elm 25-20, 25-21 and 28-26 in a Mid-State League Buckeye Division match.
After back-to-back kills from Kayla Fleck and Morgan Blakeman closed out a 25-20 win in the opening set, the Tigers built leads of 15-8 in the second set and 16-11 in the third, only to see the Braves battle back both times to make crunch time more interesting.
“We have the ability to turn it back on and make plays down the stretch to still win, which is something we didn’t do as well last season, but we want to work on having the mentality to just finish the job and not let the other team back into a set,” Circleville coach Danielle Perkins said. “Sometimes when you get a bigger lead, it can be easy to become a little complacent. I don’t think that’s intentional, it’s just human nature.
“We want to get over the hump with that and carry a tough girl mindset and attitude out there on the court that we are going to start strong, stay strong, finish strong and put away opponents when we get out to leads like that.”
The second set featured eight ties and runs of 10-1 by the Tigers, followed by an 11-2 surge from the Braves that allowed them to take the lead on back-to-back aces courtesy of Hannah Rhoads.
Following a timeout by Perkins, the Tigers closed on an 8-2 run, highlighted by three kills and a solo block by Morgan Blakeman and a pair of kills off the block from Gabby McConnell, to rally from 19-17 down and take the set.
“Logan Elm pushed us at different points in the match and we had to fight through it as a team, find the weaknesses in Logan Elm’s defense and exploit them to play the type of game that we needed to at the net,” Morgan Blakeman said.
The final set featured 10 ties and three set points that were successfully fought off, two by the Braves and one by the Tigers.
Circleville received a break when Logan Elm attempted to play a spike from Morgan Blakeman. The ball hit the ceiling after being played by the defense, changed direction and the Braves were unable to handle it. Morgan Blakeman then clinched match point for the Tigers with a solo block.
Morgan Blakeman credited the experience the Tigers possess for helping them battle through adverse points in a match.
“We have one of the more experienced teams around here with senior seniors and can still mix in two sophomores and two freshmen,” she said. “We mesh well as a team because we are friends off of the court and that allows us to batten down when we face a tough moment and battle through it together.”
After making nine hitting errors in the opening set, the Tigers improved their efficiency a bit with 11 combined in the final two sets.
Morgan Blakeman led the Tigers at the net with 18 kills and was also a force on defense with eight solo blocks. Gabby McConnell followed with eight kills, and Cara Cooper and Maddie Blakeman chipped in seven apiece.
“We aren’t as predictable on offense this season, because we are setting for several different players and the opponent can’t just gear up everything for Morgan,” Perkins said. “Morgan did her thing at the net, and we also got some nice hitting from Kayla Fleck and Gabby McConnell. Our setters, Maggie Gibson and Gabby McConnell, are also doing a good job at mixing up the sets and utilizing our different hitting threats.
“Overall, we’re still working on becoming a little more consistent, keeping the ball on the court and cut down our hitting errors.”
Perkins also complimented the play of her back row, led by senior libero Chandler Hayes.
“Our defense was all over the place and was making some big plays,” she said. “Chandler Hayes and Cara Cooper do a nice job of communicating, digging up some pretty good hits from Claire King and Logan Elm’s other hitters and helping us to transition from defense into offense.”
Both teams continue league play on Thursday, as the Tigers (8-1, 2-1) host Amanda-Clearcreek (1-4, 0-3) and the Braves (1-8, 0-3) travel to Liberty Union (4-4, 1-3).
Kills — Circleville — Morgan Blakeman, 15; Gabby McConnell, 8; Cara Cooper, 7; Maddie Blakeman, 7; Kayla Fleck, 6; Logan Elm — Claire King, 15; Addison Smith, 7; Kaitlyn Fultz, 5
Assists — Circleville — Maggie Gibson, 23; Gabby McConnell 20; Logan Elm — Breanne Williams, 17; Hannah Rhoads, 16
Aces — Circleville — Gabby McConnell, 2; Logan Elm — Hannah Rhoads, 2
Digs — Circleville — Morgan Blakeman, 18; Cara Cooper, 15; Chandler Hayes, 12; Gabby McConnell. 11; Maggie Gibson, 9; Natalie Keaton, 9; Logan Elm — Sadie Binkley, 22; Breanne Williams, 12; Lynsay VanHoose, 11; Claire King, 9; Hannah Rhoads, 8
Blocks — Circleville — Morgan Blakeman, 8 solo blocks; Logan Elm — Claire King, 3 total blocks
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