A little constructive criticism helped provide the calm amidst the storm that was the Licking Valley-Newark Catholic rematch Tuesday.
With the fifth set of the two-hour battle tied at 11, Valley senior Cassi Stein came up with two big blocks, sending the Panthers on their way to a 26-24, 21-25, 25-21, 19-25, 15-11 Licking County League win before a boisterous crowd in Dick Torbert Gymnasium.
“When we’re down, we don’t yell at teammates. We use constructive criticism,” said senior setter Laikyn Hrinko, who had 27 assists. “I told her (Stein): ‘Hey, get your head up.'”
“(Stein is) a great player who has played in a lot of big games. They have some seniors, and that helps in a match like this,” Green Wave coach Jeri Helfer said after her team lost its second five-set match of the season to Valley. “We’re pretty young, and some of our kids might have been a little shell-shocked there at the end.”
The win kept the Panthers (14-3, 12-2) tied in the loss column atop the LCL with Granville (11-2). NC (12-4, 10-3) dropped into third place, a game back. Valley coach Abby Fitz has talked to her team about playing loose and just having fun.
“When we play tense, good things don’t happen, especially against a team like Newark Catholic,” she said. “I told them: ‘Just go out and play like you do in practice.'”
Sophomore Christine Joyce’s serving got the Green Wave out to a quick 7-1 lead in the first set. NC still was up 14-6, but the setting of Hrinko and Carly Skeese and the hitting of Carrie McArtor and Mackenzie Hoyt helped revive the Panthers as they rallied for a win.
“We’ve been doing these drills in practice, where we’re down a certain number of points and in that first game, it really helped us,” Hrinko said. “It’s really about everyone working together in tough situations.”
Jill Blacksten’s blocking helped get NC back into it with a second-set win. After dropping a tough third set, the Green Wave spread the attack out among their hitters to stay in the match with a fourth-set victory.
NC led 9-8 in the fifth set. But a Stein block gave Valley a 10-9 lead. Then Hrinko set up Stein for a kill to make it 11-9. Freshman Taylor Daignault responded with a kill for the Green Wave, and Kelly Clapper assisted Joyce for an 11-11 tie. That’s when Stein’s back-to-back blocks gave the Panthers the final push they needed.
“We found a way to get it done. We hadn’t been blocking well all night,” Fitz said.
“We came together at the end and did the little things, lining up on the hitters’ right arm, talking, everything,” said Stein, who finished with 22 kills, four blocks and two aces. “It’s our house and we haven’t lost on our home court.”
Hoyt added 14 kills and four blocks, McArtor had 10 kills, Kayla Anderson 18 digs and Skeese 16 assists and 14 digs for Valley.
Blacksten had 10 kills and nine blocks for NC. Becca Kapavik added 10 kills and six blocks; Daignault 29 digs, 10 kills and three aces; Marisa Peddicord 29 digs and two aces and Jenna Bourne nine kills.
“We switched the lineup so Jill would be up against Stein (for blocking), but we struggled on offense,” Helfer said. “This is the type of environment we’re going to see in tournaments, a tough situation. It will prepare us for our tournament run. This is why the Licking County League got back together.”