The Clay Panthers volleyball team improved their record to 15-3 on the season and 8-2 in the SOC I with a 3-0 victory (25-21, 25-12, 25-10) over the Valley Indians (7-6, 6-4), and most importantly improved their play in the process.
“We had that loss [last] Thursday to Notre Dame, and we were working on improving our passing so we can run our offense,” Clay head coach Jill Tipton said. “I think we did a good job of that today.”
The passing efforts improved considerably, as the Panthers posted 42 assists as a team, with 41 of those coming from junior Lila Brown.
Overall, the offense looked back to form, and Clay returned to their winning ways. Tipton was most impressed, though, with the way her girls responded after that loss to Notre Dame.
“That’s what any good team does,” Tipton said. “You’re going to lose a few here and there, and we did lose, but we got back in the gym and we worked on those things that we need to work on to be competitive.”
The victory was hard fought, though, especially in the first set.
Both teams went back and forth in terms of scoring points for the first ten combined points. After Valley took a 6-5 lead, the Panthers went on an 8-4 run to take a 13-10 lead before the Indians took their first timeout.
Clay and Valley again traded scores, but the Indians were able to charge back and tie the score up at 21. From there, the Panthers pushed forward for three straight points, and Valley took their last timeout of the set.
Out of the timeout, Clay was able to score the final point for a win in the opening set, 25-21. The Panthers used four straight points in the first set to secure the victory.
The Indians came up short in the first set, but showed a lot of promise for the rest of the match.
“I think we just continued on from [last] Thursday’s game,” Valley head coach Kari Christman said. “We played South Webster, and they played with a lot of heart and gave it everything they had.”
In the second set, Clay got off to a strong start once again. The Panthers went up 3-0, but a 6-0 run from Valley made it 6-3 in favor of the Indians.
To their credit, Clay didn’t panic, and instead kept the fight going. From there, the Panthers went on an 8-1 run of their own before Valley took a timeout with Clay ahead 11-7.
Back from the break, not much changed for the Indians. Clay used a 7-2 run out of the timeout to take an 18-9 lead before Valley used their last timeout of the second set.
Things were much of the same out of the timeout, though the Indians did start things off out of the break with a 3-0 run. After that surge, though, it was back to the Panthers, who closed the set out with seven straight points to record a 25-12 victory.
Clay relied on a 22-6 run to claim the win in the second set, and would use another monster scoring streak in what would be the third and final set.
Valley opened up the third set on a 3-1 run, but Clay took four straight points to reclaim the lead. After the two teams swapped scores, the set was tied 6-6.
From there, though, the Panthers would not be denied. Clay went on an 8-1 scoring stretch before the Indians took their first timeout.
After the stoppage of play, the Panthers were still on fire. They used an 11-3 run to win the match in three sets, closing out the contest on a 19-4 run.
The first set was a fight for Clay, but the last two sets saw the Panthers pull away on offense. The different according to Tipton was the way her team approached things, saying her girls played with “more energy and momentum.”
“We talked about that in the timeouts and on the floor,” Tipton said. “In this game, they have to enjoy being out there on the court. We’ve got to find energy, we’ve got to motivate each other.”
The Panthers got several big offensive performances. Junior Delanie Gilliland led the team with 17 kills, and junior Jensen Warnock recorded 15 kills. Junior Taylor Lewis had nine kills.
“We’re still working on each player taking care of their job and their role so that as a team we can be really good,” Tipton said about her team’s offensive showcase.
The game plan moving forward for Clay is simple: “We’re trying to find some more momentum and energy, change a few little things, and keep winning,” Tipton said.
Christman feels her team is in a good position as well. “They’ve been pretty strong all year long in this league in the SOC,” she said.
Both coaches hope to see their teams keep fighting as the regular season is just several days away from drawing to a close.
Reach Benjamin Spicer at (502)264-7318 or on Twitter @BSpicerPDT