After a successful 2013 campaign and a run to the District Semifinals, the Clay Lady Panthers hoped to carry that momentum into their season opener. The Northwest Lady Mohawks had other ideas.
Behind a ferocious offensive attack, Northwest (1-1) was able to down Clay (0-1) in straight sets, 25-8. 25-22, 25-11.
“We didn’t let down. Even though we had a little bit of a lead, we didn’t drop down to play at a slower pace,” Northwest head coach Alisha Shaw said. “We kept it going.”
The Lady Mohawks took control of the match quickly and didn’t look back. After taking control on a Clay service error, Northwest’s Ashley Riley took the serve and would lead the Lady Mohawks to nine straight points and a commanding 14-3 lead. Though Clay’s Shaylee Holbert would do her best to keep the Lady Panthers alive with an ace and a dig, it wasn’t long before the Lady Mohawks put the game away for good, thanks in part to one of Hayleigh Vastine’s 11 kills on the night.
“(Hayleigh) is one of our leaders on the court, as well as keeping everybody up, she is our biggest offensive player,” Shaw said. “She had several kills and added to our win.
Game two was a different story. In a back-and-forth game, neither team rarely lead by more than three points. Clay’s Lexie Gilliland would lead the Lady Panthers to a late-game lead with two of her seven kills and numerous spectacular defensive plays.
“When we’re able to pass and feed her the ball, she runs our offense,” Clay head coach Jill Tipton said. “She’s definitely our strength hitting-wise.”
Outside of Gabby Hickman’s 12 assists, there was one facet of Clay’s game that seemed to be holding the Lady Panthers back.
“We have to improve our passing,” Tipton said. “When we don’t pass, we can’t do anything on offense.”
With Clay leading the game 17-16, it was a passing error that gave the serve and the momentum back to Northwest. They would outscore the Clay 8-5, including an emphatic ace from Riley to give the Lady Mohawks a 2-0 lead in the match.
Game three seemed to mirror the first game, but this time it was Alyssa Sparks leading the charge offensively. Serving for Northwest, she would help the Lady Mohawks rip off six straight points to bury Clay beneath a 18-6 lead. Alexus Lisath would add a couple of huge blocks down the stretch, as Northwest would clinch the third game and the match with a 25-11 victory.
“(Lisath) is actually off the bench from last season. She’s contributed to our blocking, she’s our biggest blocker on our team,” Shaw said.
After a tough loss in their first game against North Adams, a win on the road with the perfect recipe for Northwest, who faces a tall task next week in the Valley Indians.
“Hopefully we can keep it up and bring out another win,” Shaw said.
As for Clay, they look to turn things around on Saturday when they host Southeastern Ross and Greenfield McClain in a tri-match starting at 1 p.m.
“We have to work harder,” Tipton said. “It all comes back to our passing, our passing killed us tonight. It didn’t allow us to run anything offensively because we couldn’t get the ball to the set. We were too busy chasing the ball all over the court.”
Northwest def. Clay 25-8, 25-21, 25-11
Northwest — Hayleigh Vastine (11 kills), Alexus Lisath (6 kills), Brooke Miller (23 assists)
Clay — Lexie Gilliland (7 kills), Gabbie Hickman (12 assists)
Alex Hider can be reached at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1931 or on Twitter @PDTSportsWriter