Highland was able to maintain its perfect record in volleyball for the 2020 season after battling past host Cardington in a Thursday night KMAC contest.

The Scots won in three sets, but it wasn’t easy for them, as the scores were 25-19, 25-22 and 25-17. For the team, it was the conclusion to a tough week of competition, which also included Buckeye Valley and 2019 Division I state champions DeSales.

“DeSales was supposed to be last week, but didn’t happen because of COVID,” said head coach Rob Terrill, who added that they were able to reschedule the contest due to Franklin County moving from Red to Orange in Ohio’s weekly COVID update. “Playing them and then two days later, Cardington, is a tough week, but I think the girls responded well.”

In the first game, four points serving by Kendall Stover staked Highland to an 8-4 lead.

Maggie Wade and Maddie Linkous both scored points for the Pirates to keep them close, but leading 10-8, Highland was able to get a defensive point and two serves from Makenna Belcher to go up 13-8. Points by Ashlynn Belcher and Abby Eusey and two from Stover pushed that lead to a 20-12 score.

Trailing 24-15, Cardington made a late run, getting four straight points by Linkous before surrendering the 25th point and first set.

Despite the loss, Pirate coach Ryan Treese was pleased with what he saw from his team. Noting that his team also had a tough week, playing a traditionally strong Norwalk team and a powerful Central District foe in North Union, he was happy with how hard his players fought — especially since he felt his team came out flat against North Union.

“Tonight, the score was right there,” he said. “After the North Union game, I was doubting myself. We can fight and we will fight. I was very pleased. We went from playing number one in the district in my mind to number one in the KMAC.”

Cardington jumped out to an early lead in the second set, getting points from Lexie Mellinger and Kyleigh Bonnette. Three points by Stover put the Scots in front 6-4, but a defensive point and two from Wade put the Pirates back on top by one.

The teams traded points until two from Emma West put Highland up 10-8.

With the score 14-12, Highland got three some Stover. Cardington responded with two by Wade, but Zoya Winklefoos tallied three on her serve. Cadie Long scored one for the Pirates, but the Scots answered again, getting two from West to lead 24-17.

Once again, the Pirates would rally late, getting four straight by Linkous before Highland scored on defense to go up 2-0 in the best-of-five match.

“For some reason, we liked to put a run together when they had 24 points,” said Treese.

Highland got out to a fast start in the third game, getting two points from Ashlynn Belcher and one each from Eusey, Stover and Winkelfoos to lead 9-4 in the early going.

“I thought we made some good adjustments,” said Terrill. “Cardington did a good job keeping it alive and we have to figure out how to finish those off.”

The Pirates got two from Long and one from Linkous to get back into the game and were able to stay close until the end. After two more points from Long brought the score to a 20-17 margin, though, Highland got a defensive stop and was able to conclude the match with four straight points served by West.

After the match was over, both head coaches noted that early-season matches like they’ve had this week have been great for helping their teams to gel after suffering some key graduation losses from last year’s squads.

After graduating All-Ohioan Hannah Wickline, Treese said that his team, which contains a lot of sophomore talent, is learning to play together.

“If you look at the stats this year and last year, they’re completely different,” he said. “Our stats are balanced. If you don’t have a Hannah Wickline or Raina Terry, you have to spread it around.”

Terrill, whose team graduated Terry as well as two other starters in Gena West and Darcie Walters, was happy that his squad got to play a pair of high-quality teams that utilize different styles of play.

“The change of pace,” he said. “We hadn’t played a fast team until DeSales. Cardington plays a slower game, but are so good at attacking at the net. They’re different styles and we appreciate that opportunity.”

Makenna Belcher hits the ball for Highland in their three-set win over Cardington Thursday night.
https://www.morrowcountysentinel.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/29/2020/09/web1_makennabelcher.jpgMakenna Belcher hits the ball for Highland in their three-set win over Cardington Thursday night. Rob Hamilton | Morrow County Sentinel

Cardington’s Kyleigh Bonnette sets the ball in action from Thursday.
https://www.morrowcountysentinel.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/29/2020/09/web1_kyleighbonnette.jpgCardington’s Kyleigh Bonnette sets the ball in action from Thursday. Rob Hamilton | Morrow County Sentinel

By Rob Hamilton

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Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS