PORTSMOUTH — The Notre Dame Titans, simply put, turn it up a notch in Southern Ohio Conference Division I play.
And, Thursday night provided yet another example.
That’s because the Titans took their latest step in defense of their sixth consecutive SOC I volleyball championship —convincingly and emphatically sweeping the visiting Clay Panthers 25-9, 25-11 and 25-9 at Notre Dame High School.
That’s correct, as the Titans took total control from start to finish of the 50-minute match —playing what NDHS coach Cassidy Roney raved as their best performance of their young season.
The Titans are an even 6-6, having faced some highly-challenging non-conference competition in the form of Division II and III programs, but are a perfect 5-0 in the SOC I.
Notre Dame dealt with a coronavirus situation for the opening two-and-a-half weeks, and didn’t play a match from Aug. 22 until Sept. 8.
“That was the best we’ve played all season. The break at the start of the season wasn’t good at all for us. So we’ve started slow, and until today, I just haven’t seen us play to our best potential. And Clay is typically a really tough game for us,” said Roney. “I was really proud of them for coming out tonight and finally proving to themselves and everybody else what they are capable of.”
In aiming for its seventh straight division championship, Notre Dame has swept Western, Symmes Valley, Green and now Clay —and won at New Boston in four games.
The Titans’ only other SOC I title came clear back a decade-and-a-half ago (2005), but Notre Dame’s dominance in the past six-and-a-half years is quite evident.
They take everybody’s best SOC I shot, and turn back those challenges each time.
“Everyone in the league is going to play their best against us. We’ve won several (league championships) in a row, so everybody wants to be the team to beat us in the league. We always have to play our best in league games, and we’ve done that so far this season,” said Roney. “Hopefully, we can keep that up.”
They did so against the Panthers, never trailing in the opening two games —and reversing a 3-1 deficit in the third by quadrupling Clay 24-6 the rest of the way.
That was the Panthers’ largest lead, as they fell victim in all three sets to some serious serving barrages by the experienced Titans.
Annie Dettwiller served the match’s opening six points, and Notre Dame’s largest first-set lead soon swelled to 21-6 — before the 25-9 final.
In the closing game, the Titans led 1-0 before three consecutive Clay points —but a Panther service error before Bree Hicks had five straight service points pivoted any Clay comeback bid.
The Titans took their 7-3 advantage and only extended it —with 25-9 once again winding up the final score.
The Panthers came no closer in the last set than 7-4, after leading 3-1.
The sandwiched second set, after some back-and-forth for points and the Titans leading between two or three until it was 10-9, saw Hicks handle the serve again —and this time reel off seven service points in a row.
“We’ve tended to start off a little slow sometimes, but tonight we started all three sets strong, and kept the energy up throughout the whole set. They never let up at all once they got that lead,” said Roney. “Annie served those six points to start the match and that got us going. The third set we struggled a little bit at the beginning, but we didn’t let it affect us.”
With Hicks hitting her serves, including a pair of aces along with Mallory Boland, the taller Titans took full — and sometimes thunderous — throttle against the shorter Panthers.
Notre Dame sports five hitters at, or almost at, six feet tall —Dettwiller, Katie Strickland, Gracie Ashley, Gwen Sparks and not part of Thursday’s regular rotation Kyndall Ford.
Sparks and Ashley amassed 10 kills apiece, followed by Boland with nine and Dettwiller with eight —as Dettwiller set for 15 assists and Kamryn Bradford another 11.
“We have a really tall front line this year. I think we have five girls who are 5-10 or taller,” said Roney. “That is and is going to be an advantage for us in a lot of games.”
As a team, the Titans tallied 41 kills and 52 service points —spearheaded by Hicks with 14 and Dettwiller a dozen.
The Titans’ 29 digs came courtesy of Hicks (nine), Bradford (seven), Ashley (six), Dettwiller (four) and Boland (three).
Indeed, a good match turned up a notch — the best match so far by Notre Dame this year — was had by all.
“We played really well, and I was really proud of the effort that I got from them,” said Roney.
The Emily Spriggs-coached Panthers, which fell to 4-4 and 3-1 in the league, return to the road —and step out of conference play again —on Saturday with Whiteoak.
The Titans, which have yet to play East in the division, begin the back half of SOC I play on Tuesday evening at Symmes Valley.
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved