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Norse outlast Apaches in five-set thriller

Northfield’s volleyball team celebrates at the conclusion of the fifth set of Thursday’s contest against Wabash.

BY JACOB RUDE - sports@wabashplaindealer.com

While Northfield has established itself early in the season as one of the Three Rivers Conference favorites (TRC), as the old adage goes, to be the champion you have to beat the champion.

Dramatically enough, the reigning champions Wabash and the Norse are no strangers to one another with a memorable five-setter serving as one of the final hurdles in the Apaches’ title-winning campaign last season.

As the two locked horns this season, another classic battle played out at Northfield with the Norse exorcising demons from last fall with a 19-25, 25-22, 23-25, 25-14, 15-10.

“It’s a big win for us,” Northfield head coach Ted Bahney said. “That’s one of our goals is hoping to win conference this year and I think we’ve got a great shot to do it. This is a big win for us because Wabash is a big rival.

“The girls fought and fought and played pretty well all five games. But they did really good games two, four and five.”

Much like last season’s match-up, the Norse would find themselves in a do-or-die situation on the night, trailing two sets to one heading into the fourth set. The hosts responded in its most dominant fashion of the night, quickly building a big lead leading at 17-9 by the midway point. Wabash would offer little resistance and Northfield used kills from Madison Shrider and Addi Baker to close out the set with a 25-14 win.

Again like their previous regular season match-up, the Norse then opened up a lead in the fifth set. A trio of points with kills from Kearston Stout and Kenzie Baer forced Wabash’s first timeout of the set with the hosts ahead 6-3.

Wabash would crawl back into the game at 7-6 but Northfield took three of the next four points to stretch the lead back out to 10-7. Baker delivered the dagger on the night with kills in three straight rallies to give Northfield a 13-8 lead.

Baker’s big night, a team-leading 13 kills, came largely as a result of a lineup change that’s end goal was to enable the junior hitter even more.

“We did have a new lineup tonight that was brand new to them,” Bahney said. “It was the first they used it and I almost thought about changing it after game one. But we stuck with it and they’re starting to get used to it. It brings a lot of ability for Addi (Baker) to hit a lot.”

Unlike last season, the Norse would close out the game, though through little of their own doing. The Norse’s final two points of the night came on serves into the net from the Apaches, allowing Northfield to walk away still unbeaten in TRC play on the year.

The Apaches, though, put up much stiffer tests in the opening three sets. After a back-and-forth opening set that saw both sides lead through, it was a run of four-straight points that included a pair of kills from Mariah Wyatt and an ace from Lexi Westendorf that pushed the guests ahead 23-16, leading to the first-set win.

Northfield responded in set two, but only again after falling into both a big deficit and a late one. Wabash used a run of four-straight points early in the set to open up an 11-6 lead and grab control of the set. The Apaches looked primed for another set win leading 20-16 after a kill from Faryn Morris.

Northfield pulled back into the contest on the back of Wabash miscues to force a timeout down 20-19 but Wabash came out of the break with a block from Wyatt and a kill from Alivia Short to reestablish a 22-19 edge. The Norse, though, would not be denied as Madison Shrider, Morgan Meyer and Stout all contributed points in a decisive 6-0 run to end the set and give Northfield the 25-22 win.

The third set was perhaps the best set of the night as both sides had pivotal moments. Wabash scored the first three points with Wyatt recording both a block and a kill in the span. That advantage carried over to a 10-6 lead before a string of runs from both sides.

Northfield first took an 11-10 lead before Wyatt and Short powered Wabash back to a 16-11 advantage. The Norse would close the gap back down to 17-16 but Wabash would hold a 21-19 lead late.

Northfield used kills from Baer to help take a 23-21 lead to reach the precipice of a set win but Wabash relented as Westendorf had an ace and Wyatt had a pair of kills including the set-winning point to give Wabash it’s 25-23 win.

While the third set ended in a loss, Northfield’s late-set success actually springboarded the Norse enter the final two sets.

“I think when we got beat that third set,” Bahney said, “I came (into the huddle) and said ‘Hey, you guys outscored them to end that game even though you lost it. Now take that out there.’ I think they responded to that. We talked about serving and said...find the setter and serve as far away from her as you can. Keep it away from her and our girls did that a lot in games four and five and I think that was a big difference there.”

For Northfield, Baer had nine kills while Shrider and Stout each had six kills while Hunter finished with 38 assists on the night. Elise Gottschalk led the Norse defensively with 31 digs.

Individual stats for Wabash were unavailable as of Plain Dealer deadline.

Wabash is now 5-5 on the season and 0-2 in TRC play. Northfield is now 9-2 on the year and 1-0 in the TRC.