Two top-ranked teams took the volleyball court Thursday night for what on paper appeared to be an intriguing showdown at Yorktown.
Only one team lived up to its ranking, though, as a clash of No. 1s failed to meet expectations. Class 4A No. 1 New Castle dictated play and beat 3A top-ranked Yorktown 25-20, 25-15, 24-26, 25-15.
The Tigers lost a second consecutive match for the first time since the 2010 Central Invitational and dropped only their fourth home match in the last four seasons.
For New Castle, this snapped a five-match losing streak to the Tigers. New Castle last previously beat Yorktown in the 2006 Class 3A sectional.
The Trojans (28-2) played with an energy missing on the other side of the court Thursday. New Castle attacked from the opening serve and physically dominated the Tigers (25-3) at the net.
New Castle stuffed the Yorktown attack with nine blocks. Lauryn Gillis, Taylor Patterson and Laryssa Welch shared team-high honors with 2½ apiece.
The New Castle block perhaps intimidated the Tigers. Yorktown committed 27 hitting errors, and only one of its players managed to reach double-figures kill totals. Senior Nikki Box finished with 19.
“I just don’t feel like we attack people enough, and I also feel as an entire group we don’t have a mentality of really getting after it and having some fire, and that’s what I think needs to change,” Yorktown coach Stephanie Bloom said. “I think maybe some individuals have it, but we’re not translating that as a unit at all.”
The Trojans attacked effectively on their end as Patterson established her middles, Payton Anderson and Welch, in the opening two sets. Both middles attacked effectively by throwing quick sets from Patterson into the open corners or into the soft middle of the Yorktown defense.
“We knew our zones that we had to hit,” Welch said. “We just kept working on it in practice until we got it right.”
Gillis took over down the stretch for the Trojans. The 6-foot-2 USC recruit terminated for a match-high 23 kills. Some of her best swings came when Patterson set her in the back row roughly 15 feet away from the net.
“I honestly was kind of surprised by it,” Gillis said of her effectiveness hitting out of the back row. “Lately, I’ve been struggling some with it, but tonight it just kind of worked out.”
The only real suspenseful stretch of play in the match occurred in set three. The two sides exchanged points throughout the set before Yorktown rolled off four out of five points to take a 23-20 lead. New Castle responded with four straight of its own and served for match point, but Box answered with a kill and the Trojans followed with two consecutive hitting efforts as the Tigers managed to extend the match to a fourth set.
Turns out, Yorktown only delayed the inevitable. New Castle rattled off five of the first six points in the fourth set and cruised to an easy victory over the Tigers.
“I told them the little things were going to be the difference in the match,” New Castle coach Randy Gardner said. “We talked about it all week. We can’t let them get easy points, and we had to serve well. Our passing and serving broke down in three, and in four, I thought we responded to pass a decent fourth game.”