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Norse ease past Squires in sweep

VOLLEYBALL: Northfield’s Kearston Stout rises up for a kill during Tuesday’s contest at home against Manchester.

BY JACOB RUDE - sports@wabashplaindealer.com

While fans across the Three Rivers Conference have eyed Thursday’s volleyball showdown between Maconaquah and Northfield for weeks, the Norse themselves had thought little of it. First, a win over Manchester was necessary to keep Thursday’s stakes high.

And focused the Norse were on the night, evidenced by a rare three-set sweep over Manchester at home, quickly dispatching the guests 25-19, 25-9, 25-21.

“This year, it’s been uncommon for us,” head coach Ted Bahney joked about a three-set win. “We really haven’t even talked about Maconaquah. We, basically in practice, have worried about Manchester. Tomorrow’s practice will be about Maconaquah. We have to take it one game at a time. I really don’t push the issue too much. In my mind, it’s there but I don’t push it to the players so they stay focused.”

After some back and forth play in the first set that saw the Norse take an early 10-7 lead, the hosts scored four unanswered to double up the Squires at 14-7. After Manchester closed the gap back down to 15-11, Northfield opened back up a big lead at 21-12 and used that margin to comfortably cruise to a 25-19 win.

Set two was far more academic from Northfield. The Norse scored 10 of the first 12 points with a host of players joining in on the scoring. Addi Baker, Madison Shrider, Kearston Stout and Elise Gottschalk all scored in the opening stages.

Manchester would never be able to cut into the deficit as Northfield reeled off nine unanswered points late in the set, turning a 14-7 lead to a 23-7 advantage before closing it out with a 25-9 victory.

Set three was as competitive as Manchester would be on the night, holding a lead deep into the set. A timeout for the Norse trailing 15-12 would be a turning point on the night.

“I think calling a timeout, telling them to relax a little bit, get their focus back,” Bahney said on how his team was able to win in three sets. “When I called that timeout, it was still nip and tuck going through (the third set). Manchester helped us a little bit by with a couple of balls out of bounds.”

The Squires would come out of the brief stoppage with a 5-0 run to take a 17-16 lead after a kill from Stout. While Manchester hung with the Norse, the hosts put the game to rest on hte night with a kill from Emily Pennington and consecutive aces from Abby Hunter.

Baker had nine kills on the night and Stout seven while Hunter and Pennington had six and five, respectively. Hunter finished with 19 assists and two aces. Defensively, Pennington and Stout had four and three blocks, respectively, while Baker led the team in digs with 26.

For Manchester, Aubree Lambert had five kills and Andrea Kahn four. Kline had 10 assists while Ali Sites recorded 27 digs.

The win for Northfield means the will head into the showdown with the Braves on Thursday unbeaten in conference play at 6-0. Maconaquah will be playing its conference finale after running through the first eight games without a loss. With Northfield’s finale two conference games coming against North Miami and Whitko, teams a combined 1-13 in the conference this year, Thursday’s contest will carry the weight of a conference title game.

“A lot on the line,” Bahney said. “The way these girls played this year, they always seem to step it up when playing the tough competition. I look forward to probably doing it again. I think it’ll be an excellent match going on. I would not be surprised if it goes four or five (sets).”

The JV contest will start at 6 p.m. at Northfield with the varsity contest to follow.