The senior-dominated Newman Catholic volleyball team, coming off a WIAA Division 4 state appearance, will be the hunted team in the Marawood Conference South Division this season.
The Cardinals passed their first test Tuesday as they beat a veteran Pittsville team in four games in the conference opener for both schools 25-21, 22-25, 25-20, 25-15.
“I always feel like Pittsville is a very scrappy team, and you never know what they’re going to bring,” Newman coach Betty Lange said. “We’re still working on being focused for every point and being intense for the entire match against whatever team we come up against. This was the perfect example. In our conference, everyone is going to come out and give us a really good match. We’re going to have to be prepared to play our best (each night).”
Abby Brown and Shaefer Rupar both had 16 kills and Rupar added 20 digs for the Cardinals, who have seven seniors on their roster. Brianna Jankowski had a team-high 25 assists, while Kimberly Steif chipped in with 19 assists, 20 digs and three aces for Newman, which rolled off eight consecutive points in Game 4 to grab a 22-11 lead.
“I really was really happy with our passing tonight, and our service receive,” Lange said. “I thought we had options just about every time out of service receive where our setter was able to set up the ball and someone was able to attack aggressively. Obviously we’ve got players who can score for us if we give them the right ball.”
Briana Ziemendorf had 31 assists to lead the Panthers, who have four seniors and five juniors on the team. Marissa Ortner had 10 kills, while Jenna Sanken and Sarah Peters each added nine kills.
“We’re happy with taking a game away,” Panthers coach Liana Oleson said. “(The players) gave it their all in the fourth game, but I guess we just hit a point where we came down and couldn’t get back up.
The second game was the most competitive of the match as there were three lead changes and nine ties. The last came at 22-22 after the Cardinals rallied back from a 17-13 deficit.
Newman built a 19-13 lead in Game 3, but the Panthers closed to within three points three times with the last coming at 23-20. A Pittsville service error put Newman to game point, and Brown closed it out with a kill.
Lange said her team had to adjust to Pittsville’s “red rover” defense, in which a player floats along the 10-foot line behind the block, and the sides are back deep in the corners and the middle is up short.
“We’re used to more of a rotational or a perimeter (defense),” Lange said. “It was tough for us to visualize (at first). The deep back was open, but we were still going to corners (at first) because we had worked really hard on that because you can score on other teams and other defenses in the corners. We had to adjust that, and some of our hitters were able to do that.”
Pittsville made the switch to the defense this season, and Oleson said it is a work in progress.
“I think they did well (with the defense), but of course we will always have things to work on,” Oleson said.