Notre Dame and Clay gave fans a preview Tuesday night. Numerous comebacks, multi-point efforts and solid play marked the SOC I tilt, but in the end, it was the Lady Panthers' size and hitting that made the difference, as Clay won 25-21, 21-25, 28-26 and 25-18.
That size, and plenty of the hitting, was provided by Clay's 6-foot-1 sophomore Cami Groves, who had 19 kills and six blocks on the evening.
“I feel dominant at the net,” said Groves. “When I'm on, I'm on, but when I'm off, I'm off, but the rest of the team really helps me. The whole team stays up, and that helps me stay up. We help each other play better.”
In game one, the teams traded points for most of the opening minutes, with no lead greater than three. With the score 13-12, Mallory White served five straight points to give the Lady Panthers a 18-12 lead. Notre Dame would cut into it somewhat, but Clay took the first game.
The Lady Titans would jump out to a 16-4 lead in the second game, led by the serving of Chrissy Glockner. Ahead 7-3, Glockner served seven straight points to extend the lead at one point to 14-3. The Lady Panthers would use a seven-point run of their own to cut the lead to 16-12, but Notre Dame would hold them off for the win.
Game three would start out in Clay's favor, the team establishing an 8-2 advantage, but would quickly turn into a game of ‘Can you top this?' Featuring seven ties down the stretch, the Lady Panthers would eventually pull out the 28-26 victory and some much needed momentum heading into the fourth game.
“Notre Dame is a good ball club, and there seems to be a big rivalry when the two of us play,” said Clay coach Jill Tipton. “I have a lot of respect for Nancy (Russell, Notre Dame coach). I think she does a great job coaching, and we know that when they step on the court, they are not going to give up either. I told the girls you have to minimize your mistakes, and you have to put the ball on the court.”
After some early back-and-forth action in the fourth game, Clay would take control at the midway point and never look back, winning 25-18 to put the match away. White led the Lady Panthers in scoring with 20 points, Dani Summers added 15 and Kristen Adams scored 14.
The win improves Clay's record to 11-3 on the season, 7-2 in the SOC. For Tipton, though, it was the team's overall play, including the return of Hilary Noel in the middle, that meant the most.
“We have been working on becoming more consistent and jelling as a team, and I think tonight it finally happened,” said Tipton. “We had a few setbacks, and we have had a few injuries, and I don't know if it is a spirit from within, but they are finally starting to jell as a ball club. They played with a lot of heart tonight.”
For Notre Dame, Abby Lewis had nine assists and seven kills, and Glockner had five kills, seven aces and 11 assists. Katie Hopkins had five kills, four blocks and four aces for the Lady Titans, who fall to 5-5 on the season, 3-4 in the conference.
“It was a good game and exciting,” said Notre Dame coach Nancy Russell. “Overall, I was proud of every single one of my girls. They all stepped up and they played a hard game. There were good stats all around. We made a few silly mistakes, but other than that, we played a good, solid game.”
Kristen Clausing added five kills and two aces for the Lady Titans, and Caitlin Clifford had three aces.
JOSH HICKLE can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 241.