Licking Valley comes at you with a variety of weapons, and the Panthers needed all of them Thursday against Utica.
The Redskins’ potent combination of setter Brittney Potes and hitter Rachel Londot kept Utica close, but Valley’s all-around arsenal came up with all the key points in a 25-19, 25-22, 25-23 Licking County League win.
“We really play hard, and seem to step up often in big situations,” coach Abby Fitz said as the Panthers (11-1 overall) completed a 9-0 first round in the LCL. “We really don’t talk about that (being undefeated in the league). We just come out and take care of business, which is our theme. If we get down, we keep our composure and work through the adversity.”
Utica (7-4, 5-4) hung tough, spurred on by a raucous student section that came decked out for Neon Night.
“It was a good atmosphere, loud and crazy,” Valley senior hitter Cassi Stein said. “I loved it.”
Stein, who had 11 kills, two blocks and two aces, helped the Panthers pull away in the first set. Laikyn Hrinko set her up for a kill, she had another kill and Brittney Wilson served an ace as Valley ran off four consecutive points to lead 19-14 and closed it out soon after.
Londot’s kill off a Potes assist had the Redskins up 21-20 late in the second. But the Panthers’ clutch hitting helped save the set as Stein had two more kills and Mackenzie Hoyt — who led Valley with 12 kills — finished off the set with one of them.
The third set also came down to the wire. But Hrinko –who finished with 22 assists — set Carrie McArtor up for a kill to push the Panthers up 22-20, and Carly Skeese had an assist to McArtor to put Valley up 24-22.
“All the hitters had goals on (the) number of kills we were going to get, and we have great setters to get us the ball,” Stein said. “We always talk about taking care of business, and now we can say (we don’t lose).”
McArtor added nine kills, and Skeese had eight digs, 12 assists and two aces for the Panthers. Wilson chipped in with six kills and three aces.
Londot finished with 21 kills and 13 digs in another stellar performance for Utica.
“We knew we had to find her, get over there and block her,” Stein said. “She hits it so hard. I think my hand is still hurting from one of them.”
“We beat a really good Utica team. They play really hard too and don’t give up,” Fitz said.
Potes had 26 assists and 12 digs for the Redskins, freshman Alyson Londot had eight kills and Marissa Smitherman added 12 digs.
“I’m proud of the way we played. We just need to get over the hump, believe in ourselves to win these close matches,” Utica coach Laurie Londot said. “We were very aggressive. I told them to leave it on the floor. They (Valley) served well, but our serve receive was very good, and we had done badly with it in some of our matches.”
The Redskins start three juniors, two sophomores and a freshman.
“Sooner or later, it’s going to go our way,” Laurie Londot said. “Sure, we want to win during the regular season, but we’re playing for the tournament. We’re Division III this year. We want to be peaking at the end of the season.”