Back on the court for the first time since winning its second straight All “A” Classic state tournament title – the Toppers won six straight matches Saturday – Presentation had plenty of pep in its step. It hammered host Holy Cross, 25-20, 20-25, 25-20, 25-12 in a showdown between two teams ranked in the Top 20 of the Kentucky Volleyball Coaches Association poll.
“I told them after the weekend, ‘Look we just can’t have a letdown,’” Presentation coach Tom Sawyer said. “We won (the All ‘A’) again, we were fortunate to play hard and beat St. Henry (in the final), but there’s no time to rest, we’ve got to keep working hard and keep plugging away. And, they responded quite well to it tonight.”
Despite a second-set hiccup the eighth-ranked Toppers (17-7) had the momentum for most of the match against the 20th-ranked Cougars (10-8).
“We were so excited (after the All ‘A’), but we just had to keep in mind that our season isn’t over after that,” said junior outside hitter Peyton McClinton, the MVP of the All “A” tourney. “We got a day off on Monday, then we got in the gym on Tuesday and worked our butts off getting ready for tonight.”
Holy Cross jumped out early on Pres to start the match, leading by as many as three (the last time at 7-4) before the Toppers rallied. Trailing 9-7, Pres scored seven of the next eight points – thanks to some carelessness by the Cougars – to take control. Holy Cross had six errors in that span.
The second set was back-and-forth before the Cougars got hot on defense. Trailing 15-13, Holy Cross scored four straight points to take control. After a Halle Snyder kill, Beth Newton’s solo block tied it at 15. Then, following a Pres net violation, a block by Snyder pushed the Cougars’ lead to 17-15. Those were two of five blocks by Holy Cross in the set, which it went on to win 25-20.
“The first game we were good about avoiding the blocks, and getting those quick sets and having no block,” Sawyer said. “Then all of the sudden our offense slowed a little bit, the ball took too long to get to the hitters, they were able to set the block and we were not tooling it well enough and hitting right into it.”
The Toppers’ offense got going again early in the third set as they raced out to an 11-4 lead. Pres extended its advantage to as many as eight (the last time at 21-13) before Holy Cross rallied. The Cougars closed to within 24-20 late, but Lilly Stephenson’s kill closed out the set for the Toppers.
Pres dominated the fourth set. Leading 6-5 the Toppers scored 13 of the next 16 points to take command. McClinton closed out the match with her team-high 14th kill.
“I think we had a lot more energy and we started hitting the ball down and mixing up our shots and Jalen (Story) did awesome setting. Everyone just did great those third and fourth games,” McClinton said.
Senior middle blocker Lauren Nunnelley added nine kills while Story tallied 11 digs for the Toppers, who previously clipped the Cougars 2-0 in an All “A” regional match on Aug. 23.
“I thought there were moments that we looked good and competed,” Holy Cross coach Danielle Wiegandt said. “We’ve been struggling offensively. The beginning of the year we were struggling defensively and offense was doing okay, now it’s kind of reversed. Our defense has really started to pick up and our offense has suffered. We have some good offensive players, but they’re just not being as effective as they were at the beginning of the year. We just can’t seem to get both systems going at the same time.
“We’re very inconsistent. I’ve told the girls from game-to-game we play very differently. We played terrible Monday night against Providence (Ind.), probably the worst we’ve played all season, so I was kind of anxious to see how we’d come out tonight. I thought we came out and competed. I think we lost some fire at the end, I don’t personally like that and I challenged them (and said), ‘This is a pride match and you fight til the very end.’”