For the third time in the past four years, the Highland volleyball team advanced to the regional finals after dispatching Pemberville Eastwood by scores of 25-20, 25-22 and 25-16 on Thursday.
In the contest, which was hosted by Millbury Lake High School, the Scots took on an undefeated opponent, but didn’t even surrender a single set in improving to 26-1 on the year. A big reason for that was dominating net play, as several Highland blocks frustrated the Eagle hitters during the course of the match. “We worked awfully hard on that,” said head coach Rob Terrill.
“We aren’t typically a good blocking team, but we knew #11 (Kaitlin Meyer) took a big approach and swing, so we wanted to be patient and wait for it.”
Throughout most of the first game, neither team was able to claim the momentum. Highland got the first offensive point on a serve by Taylor Belcher to give the Scots a 3-2 lead, but a defensive point by Eastwood followed by three points from Abby Schroeder gave them the advantage.
The Eagles maintained a small lead until two straight aces from Ashton Terrill gave the Scots a 15-14 lead. After a few defensive points, Parker Steck scored to make the score 18-16. As the Scot defense took over the game, forcing 10 straight scoreless trips to the service line for Eastwood, the offense was able to get enough going to pull away.
One point from Bridget Oder boosted them to a 21-18 advantage and two from Belcher made it 24-19. While Eastwood got one more stop, they couldn’t convert on the offensive end to give the Scots the win in the opening set.
Terrill noted that his team was confident coming into the match.
“They’ve just had it in their minds to take it one step at a time,” he said. “We didn’t want to change a lot of what we do. We’ll play our ball game and adjust if we need to.”
Eastwood got off to a fast start in the second game, getting two points each from Carlee Lepiarz and Hannah Hodulik to take an early 5-1 lead. Three points from Krista Walters got the Scots back into it, tying things at 7-7. After Eastwood went back in front by a 9-8 margin, the Scots got a huge boost from Steck, who scored eight points in a row.
Even after Eastwood’s eventual defensive point, Highland led 16-10.
That six-point lead wouldn’t be safe, though. After maintaining it until the score was 22-16, the Scots surrendered five in a row to Abby Schroeder to bring the Eagles within one. Highland would hold on, though, getting a pair of defensive stops and then a point from Steck to finish the game with the Scots one set away from victory.
Thanks to three points from Bailey Santo and one from Belcher, Highland took an early 6-4 lead in the third game. However, Terrill felt his team could play better, noting that they had a lot of errors, including missed serves, in the match that kept their opponents in the match.
“I told my coaches that we’re scoring 40 points a game — 25 for us and 15 for them,” he said. “We can’t continue to do that part. I think we controlled the tempo of the game all the way through.”
After having three missed serves in their first three trips to the line in that third game, Highland only missed one more the rest of the way in a match where they had 12 total service errors. Three points by Walters and two more from Santo boosted the team to a 16-11 lead, but Eastwood battled back behind four from Hodulik.
However, a defensive stop gave the Scots a 17-15 lead and Oder essentially finished the game by scoring seven straight points to bring them one point away from victory. Eastwood got a defensive point, but Highland immediately returned the favor to take the third set, as well as the match.
Ashton Terrill had 24 kills and three aces, while Raina Terry added eight kills. Belcher contributed five kills and 18 assists and Steck finished with 18 assists. Both Santo and Oder tallied three aces each. Also, Gena West had five blocks and two kills, Kelsey Walters tallied three blocks and Krista Walters picked up two.
Coach Terrill noted that his team’s hitters did a great job against Eastwood; both pounding the ball by them and tipping it to unguarded sections of the floor with proficiency.
“That’s something we’ve been working on,” he said. “We haven’t done a lot of tipping. That just pumps our harder swings when we can mix it up.”