Hash-ing out a plan:

When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

And in a primo SOC I volleyball bout between the Notre Dame Titans and the Clay Panthers on Tuesday evening, Notre Dame proved to do just that.

Despite being shorthanded before Tuesday evening’s affair even began, and dealing with early deficits of 5-1, 4-3, and 4-3 in the first through third sets, Kelsey Glockner’s Notre Dame unit was able to rally past all of those obstacles behind fantastic performances from Lexi Smith and Clara Hash — who combined to record 30 kills and 35 digs on the evening — en route to a 3-0 victory (25-20, 25-11, 25-23) over Clay in a conference battle that was played at Notre Dame High School.

For Glockner, the resiliency of her unit, in the young leader’s eyes, speaks volumes about where the Lady Titans are at this point in time.

“We knew that tonight was going to be a huge game, and we knew that Clay was going to come out to play,” Glockner said. “I’m really proud of the girls for stepping up (this year) through adversity. Tonight was another example of that. Everyone stepped up and did what they needed to do against a very, very good Clay Panthers volleyball squad.”

As for Jill Tipton, the loss certainly will be a tough bug to fight off for the Lady Panthers, especially after fighting well into the first and third sets against the three-time defending SOC I Champions.

“We had a three-point lead in the third set, and we didn’t close it out,” Tipton said. “We’ve got to get the ball down and finish the ballgame. We need to play consistent, from beginning to end.”

At the beginning of the heavyweight battle, however, Clay showed little rust. Behind the play of Jensen Warnock and Taylor Lewis on the frontline, the Lady Panthers were able to take five of the contest’s first six points in the first set en route to establishing its early advantage. Warnock and Lewis each proved to be stellar throughout the evening as the former posted an incredible 25 digs and 16 kills on a .324 attack percentage while the latter posted seven kills, four points from serve, an assist, and a solo block to go along with two assisted blocks.

“We have four good hitters,” Tipton said. “We were able to spread the ball out to each of them and put together several strong attacks in each set. There were just a few mistakes there that cost us the lead in the first and third games. It’s about being consistent.”

Smith and Katie Dettwiller, however, had other ideas. The former, who collected a game-high 17 kills on the evening on a .343 attack percentage to go along with a team-high 21 digs, and the latter, who collected three of her five blocks (one solo, four assisted) in the first set, proved to be critical as Notre Dame took 12 of the next 15 volleys en route to establishing a 13-8 advantage behind the efforts of the duo, who were mainly set up off of Cassie Schaefer’s 38-assist performance.

Once again, however, Warnock proved to be a tough cookie.

In one point during the first set of action, the senior collected four kills and an assisted block as Clay collected 10 of the next 15 volleys en route to tying the score at 18 apiece. But as the Lady Panthers completed their charge, Smith and Dettwiller found another gear once again, as two kills and two solo blocks from the duo, along with two attack errors from Clay, allowed Notre Dame to take the opening set.

After falling behind by a 4-3 tally in the second set, the Lady Titans didn’t waste much additional time getting its offensive attack going into a rhythm as Notre Dame took 10 consecutive volleys to take a commanding lead in the second set behind the play of Hash, who added three kills during the spurt, and Dettwiller, who added two assisted blocks in the same run. Clay was able to cut the Lady Titans’ advantage to 14-7, but a fourth kill from Hash in the second set, along with a kill apiece from Dettwiller and Smith, allowed Notre Dame to go on a splendid 7-2 run en route to closing out the second set in fine fashion.

Hash’s play, however, wasn’t just critical in the second set. That was evident in the overall statline, where the 5-10 junior collected 14 digs, and 13 kills in the contest. To top it all off, the outside hitter committed just one attack error in the match en route to posting an outstanding .375 attack percentage.

“You always know that people are going to be gunning for Lexi,” Glockner said. “Clara did a fantastic job of stepping up and just taking big swings for us. She has worked so hard to become a volleyball player. I can’t say enough about what she has done so far to put herself in a position that she has to become a successful volleyball player. It’s a great thing.”

The best efforts from both units, however, were yet to come.

In fact, the third set proved to be nothing but grueling for both units, as both squads either tied or traded the lead a total of 27 times in the third frame alone — including each of the first nine volleys that were played — as Lewis and Smith each collected a pair of kills for their respective clubs.

But after 18 ties or lead changes in the first 25 volleys, four kills by Jensen Warnock allowed Clay to obtain a 16-12 lead as the Lady Panthers looked to extend the match.

However, the Lady Titans weren’t having it.

After a pair of kills from Smith and Taylor Schmidt allowed Notre Dame to close within 16-14, Clay looked to have a sure point as a kill looked it it would drop right in front of the Lady Titans’ bench.

But behind a tremendous effort, Ali Smith was able to stop that kill attempt in its tracks. Smith reacted immediately to the attempt, dove to her right, and got the tip of her right hand on it. That diving dig — one of Smith’s 19 on the evening — allowed Notre Dame to garner an offensive opportunity for Lexi Smith, who pounded a kill home in what ultimately proved to be a critical play in the contest.

“When I met Ali Smith during my first year of coaching three years ago, she had never played defense before,” Glockner said. “She was a setter. She just has the quickest little feet and she works so hard. The improvement she has made from the day I met her to now, and the abilities that she shows on the court, with reading the ball and making these fantastic defensive plays that have enabled the offense to succeed, is just spectacular. She was tough as nails on defense tonight. It was amazing.”

After Smith’s spectacular defensive play, Clay obtained kills from Lewis and Lila Brown en route to retaking the lead on two separate occasions. But on the ensuing plays following those kills, the Lady Panthers committed two critical service errors that proved to make a critical difference in the outcome of the third set.

“We had several balls that should’ve been put in the court that went out in the second game,” Tipton said. “Then, in the third game, we had back-to-back serving errors that should’ve been in play. We have to get those on the court.”

Still, even after all of those struggles, Clay held a 22-19 advantage — until Hash and Lexi Smith went to work once again. With the win within Notre Dame’s sight, the pair collected five kills in Notre Dame’s final six scoring volleys to come from behind again to take the third and final set of the match.

“We knew that we were going to be up against some really great student-athletes,” Glockner said of the match. “Clay is tall, they’re a great team, and they know how to exploit an opponent’s weaknesses. We talked all day about how great of a team that we were ready to face, and how we needed to control our side of the court by making each point an earned one. The girls did such a great job of that (on Tuesday evening). They knew that they were going to put some balls down, and when Clay did that, the girls didn’t dwell on it. They moved on to the next play. When you’re playing a team to 25-20 and 25-23 margins in sets, that’s a huge key to winning a match.”

With the defeat, Clay still holds a strong 4-2 overall mark after collecting straight-set victories in each of its four victories prior to the loss to Notre Dame. The Lady Panthers will host a New Boston squad that already holds an impressive 6-1 mark on the year.

“We’re going to go back and work harder,” Tipton said. “We’re looking forward to meeting Notre Dame again at home on Sept. 28. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get the job done the next time around.”

As for Notre Dame, the Lady Titans, who are 3-1 on the year, haven’t lost a set to date in SOC I play. They’ll look to continue that impressive mark going in a league affair at Symmes Valley — which is a task that Glockner knows that her team can accomplish.

“There’s nothing better than watching kids working so hard,” Glockner said, “and excelling on this kind of stage.”

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Notre Dame’s Ali Smith gets ready to serve against Clay on Tuesday evening. Smith had 19 digs in the Lady Titans’ 3-0 victory over Clay.
https://www.portsmouth-dailytimes.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/28/2017/09/web1_rsz_dsc_3537.jpgNotre Dame’s Ali Smith gets ready to serve against Clay on Tuesday evening. Smith had 19 digs in the Lady Titans’ 3-0 victory over Clay. Kevin Colley | Daily Times

Clay’s Jensen Warnock (7) tries to launch a kill past the outstretched arms of Notre Dame’s Cassie Schaefer (1) during an SOC I contest between the two programs. Notre Dame’s Lexi Smith (10) sets up to back Schaefer up in case the ball gets by.
https://www.portsmouth-dailytimes.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/28/2017/09/web1_rsz_dsc_3540.jpgClay’s Jensen Warnock (7) tries to launch a kill past the outstretched arms of Notre Dame’s Cassie Schaefer (1) during an SOC I contest between the two programs. Notre Dame’s Lexi Smith (10) sets up to back Schaefer up in case the ball gets by. Kevin Colley | Daily Times
Lady Titans collect straight-set win over Lady Panthers

By Kevin Colley

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