Whenever two gritty coaches, and two tough-as-nails units, get together for a volleyball match, the contest usually promises to be a fantastic affair, no matter what shape or form the contest takes.
Monday evening’s contest between the Notre Dame and Portsmouth volleyball programs proved to be just that in many ways.
Over the course of the affair, Notre Dame’s Lexi Smith and Clara Hash, along with Portsmouth’s Aiden Fields, among many others, proved their abilities time and time again for the Lady Titans and the Lady Trojans as both units battled it out set for set in each of the four matches that the pair played against each other on Monday.
However, when all was said and done, the play of Notre Dame, especially in the latter part of the sets that were held on Tuesday evening, proved to be too much as the Lady Titans edged Portsmouth, 3-1 (25-16, 28-26, 20-25, 25-21) in a primo nonconference battle that was held at Notre Dame High School.
For Kelsey Glockner, the victory represented another quality win for the Lady Titans, who have already racked up four consecutive straight-set victories in wins over Green, Western, Clay, and Symmes Valley, respectively.
“It was a really big win for us,” Glockner said. “I love these community games, especially when the gym’s packed like this and all of the girls get to perform in front of their friends and their family. There’s so much to say about a team like Portsmouth, who has five seniors on the floor that have played together all these years and have the experience that they have. It goes a long way. It was a great win for us, and a great atmosphere in a well-played game by both teams. It was a great, great game by Portsmouth.”
Even though the loss was a tough one to take for Brittany Mader, Portsmouth continued to show the moxie and poise that will make it a contender to advance to district play once regular season competition commences.
“Our girls played their hearts out,” Mader said. “They came to play and they gave 100 percent all the way around.”
From the outset, the affair proved to be a tightly contested battle that had many twists and turns along the way, with both teams tying or changing the lead six times over the first 11 volleys of play. However, Smith, as she has on many occasions during the course of the 2017 campaign, proved to be too strong. The 6-0 middle hitter scored seven of Notre Dame’s first 10 points and obtained eight points to go along with two aces as the Lady Titans outscored Portsmouth by a 21-11 count to take the first set by a 25-16 tally.
Over the course of the entire match, Smith proved to be nothing less than her usual dominant self as the senior collected 19 kills on a staggering .562 attack percentage — all while only committing one attack error on the evening — in addition to three blocks on the evening.
“We put a lot of pressure on Lexi,” Glockner said. “It’s her senior year, and we know that we’ve got to be on her shoulders a lot. She’s our gunner. However, we also know that there are a lot of other teams gunning for her. Still, she does a great job of handling the pressure and doing what’s best for the team, no matter if it’s somebody else getting the attack attempt. She’s always on board for the team and whatever is best for it, and that’s one of her best qualities.”
Portsmouth, however, proved to be no pushover. In fact, Aiden Fields, who collected four kills and an ace for the Lady Trojans in the opening set, and Katie Fannin, who proved to be an effective backline player on all counts for Portsmouth, took over affairs in the second frame of play as Fields’ four kills and Fannin’s three aces, one kill, and one assisted block allowed the Lady Trojans to sprint out to an impressive 10-3 advantage.
“We have a good group of girls that always provide 100 percent to this team,” Mader said. “Our seniors came out and they really stepped up tonight. It was a really important game for them, and they came ready to play.”
But while the Trojans established an early advantage in the second set thanks to the play of Fannin and Fields, attack, ballhandling, and service errors from Portsmouth kept Notre Dame around. A total of nine Lady Trojan errors in the second set allowed the Lady Titans to cut the Portsmouth lead down slightly to a 20-14 margin.
Then, Hash took over.
With Notre Dame facing the aforementioned deficit, Hash recorded two kills and a solo block to allow the Lady Titans to tie the score at 20 apiece. A serving error and a block by Katie Dettwiller then allowed Notre Dame to take a 22-21 advantage.
“Clara’s getting it done in all aspects of the game right now,” Glockner said. “Beyond her ball skills, her leadership, her always talking and getting everybody else fired up is wonderful. She’s just doing a lot of great things all around.”
Portsmouth, however, wasn’t phased. In fact, kills by Fields, Anne Marie Raise, and Savanna Spence allowed the Lady Trojans to put the Lady Titans on the brink as Mader’s ballclub took a 23-22 advantage.
And even though Portsmouth committed a ball handling error and an attack error, it looked like Fields — who obtained 15 kills and two aces for the match — would lead the Lady Trojans to victory as Portsmouth, again, sat on the brink of collecting a huge win in the second set.
Notre Dame, however, wasn’t to be denied. After a serving error and a kill by Hash allowed the Lady Titans to take the lead back (27-26), Portsmouth seemingly had the equalizing ingredients once again as the Lady Trojans nearly got a ball to drop just over the net. However, Notre Dame, for the second time in two weeks, obtained a massive dig — this time, from Cassie Schaefer — that kept the ball alive, which allowed Smith to obtain yet another massive kill as the Lady Titans outlasted Portsmouth, 28-26, in the second set.
“Those big plays like the one Cassie made, with the second set on the line, go a long way,” Glockner said. “Kudos to the girls for just knowing where the ball is at. We work on a lot of out-of-system volleyball, and staying in the game until we hear a whistle. Having those big digs is a gamechanger in a set that’s only decided by two points.”
But as if the second set had never happened, Portsmouth was able to use resiliency and toughness to come out on top in the third set. The Lady Trojans used their gritty defensive effort, along with five kills combined from Fields and Lyda Spencer, to emerge from deficits of 3-0 and 6-3 en route to a 25-20 victory in the third set, which Portsmouth obtained by outscoring Notre Dame 11-4 over the final 15 volleys.
And in the fourth set, Portsmouth continued to hold up its end of the bargain as five combined kills from Fields and Fannin allowed the Lady Trojans to obtain an 11-9 lead over the first 20 volleys.
But as in the second set, Portsmouth’s early lead did not hold up. Three attack errors over the final half of the fourth set, along with five kills and a block from Dettwiller — who collected nine kills on a .368 attack percentage and two blocks — allowed the Lady Titans to assume control of the set and the match.
“Katie came up to the net and she got it done,” Glockner said. “We just had to feed her. It was just another example of her stepping up when it was needed.”
With the win, Notre Dame won its fifth straight match after its season-opening loss to Piketon on Aug. 24. The Lady Titans faced Eastern in an attempt to move to 15-0 in set play and 5-0 overall against SOC I schools — a goal that Glockner believes is certainly attainable based on how Notre Dame has played.
“We’re just going to have to come in and work hard again,” Glockner said. “It’s a goal of ours to defend our title, and in trying to do that successfully, we’re just going to take each game on a game-by-game basis.”
As for Portsmouth, the Lady Trojans, who sit with a 4-2 overall mark, certainly aren’t in bad shape in its own right. Portsmouth sits with a 3-1 mark against Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) opponents and has Aiden Fields closing in on the 1,000-kill mark. The Lady Trojans played Coal Grove on Tuesday evening.
“We’re just going to come out and leave nothing behind us,” Mader said. “We’re coming in to win some ballgames, and we’re going to push forward.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7