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Braves take down Apaches in four sets

Volleyball: Wabash’s Alivia Short (left) connects with a kill attempt during Tuesday’s game at Maconaquah.

BY Trent Scott - tscott@perutribune.com

BUNKER HILL – The last time Wabash appeared in a TRC volleyball match, it was celebrating a sweep of Maconaquah and an outright conference title.

Tuesday, the Apaches faced the same Braves on the road yet were only getting their conference slate underway three-plus weeks into the season.

A rocky start saw Wabash swept away in the opening set before finally steeling itself yet the visitors were unable to build off a third set win, falling to Maconaquah 25-9, 27-25, 22-25, 25-18.

Apaches head coach Katie Cromer said the squad fell flat out of the gates, eventually finding its mettle before a few lax decisions late cost the team.

“We for sure didn’t show up in the first set,” Cromer said. “I didn’t even use our second time out because we just needed to let that one go and try to start over. We had (Maconaquah) in the second set and lost 27-25, won the third set and in the fourth, it was nip-and-tuck, coming down to a few decision-making errors.”

The opening set belied the importance of the match for both teams as Maconaquah raced out to an early lead with Wabash struggling to get anything going.

A 25-9 win for the Braves was not far off and the malaise for the Apaches carried into the second set as the hosts were beginning to create breathing space holding a 16-9 lead.

It was then that a throwaway point which had the Maconaquah team laughing seemed to light a fire under the visitors, who turned the seven-point deficit into a tie at 17-17 following a pair of kills from Lexi Westendorf.

Wabash then took a two-point lead at 19-17 and 20-18 before the Braves began to recalibrate, taking a 22-21 lead after three consecutive aces from Emily Bowyer.

Alivia Short answered with a pair of kills to retake the lead for the Apaches with the match tied at 23-23 off an Atlanta Huckleby kill.

The two teams traded off the next four points to leave the score leveled at 25-25 before Bowyer took the lead from the back row and Taylor Roesler put the set away with a point at the net.

Despite falling behind 0-2, Cromer said the girls had a feel for the match and were right in the thick of it.

“We thought the girls would relax and actually start playing,” Cromer said about the second set. “In the first set, we created most of our own problems and were our own worst enemy. If we can work on our own decision-making and ball control, we can control our side of the court.”

With Wabash now up and running, the start to the third set was hotly contested with the teams splitting the first 16 points before the hosts took a brief lead at 11-8.

The Apaches tied the match up at 12-12 off a Haylie Faust ace before the Braves took the next three points, only for the visitors to take the next four.

A spurt with the score tied at 19-19 gave Wabash the breathing room it needed to hold off Maconaquah in the set as Short and Westendorf put down kills to extend the match another round.

The Braves got the better of the opening exchanged but found the score tied at 8-8 once again, a trend that would continue until the two teams were deadlocked at 14-14.

Three-straight points for the Braves, including a Roesler block and kill, created some separation and another three-point burst with an ace from Averi Miller and Huckleby kill gave the hosts a six-point advantage at 21-15.

Wabash had run out of steam and try as it might to extend the match, one more Huckleby kill would be the final blow as the hosts took the match in four sets.

“There were some good things we saw tonight,” Cromer said about the latter half of the match. “It was very nip-and-tuck throughout the third set, which we pulled through.

“Maconaquah kept bringing it in the fourth set and we have to make better decisions. We need to get it to our money people but we fought hard and we saw a few of our weaknesses, which is good as it’s still early in the season and we can work on them.”

The conference slate gets no easier for Wabash, which fell to 5-4 and 0-1 in TRC play, as the Apaches travel to another top TRC team in Northfield Thursday at 6 p.m.

A loss to the Norse would already imperil any chance for the team to retain its conference title though Cromer said a lot of Thursday’s match depending on how much the girls came out mentally ready to play. 

“We have to beat Northfield if we want a share of the conference or to be in the top two or three,” Cromer said. “Tippecanoe Valley and Rochester are also very strong teams in our conference and we can’t overlook anyone but we have to focus on Northfield now. It’s about our court and the focus and intensity we bring to our play.”