Displaying some fairly obvious opening-night jitters, the Belleville West Maroons managed to to leave the gym with exactly what they wanted on Thursday — a victory.
Belleville West had to come from behind in both sets to squeak past a determined Triad Knights squad, winning its season opener 25-23, 27-25.
“I think we underestimated them a little bit, which was our bad, but they’re a really scrappy team so props to them,” said Belleville West junior Kaylee Hanger, who led the Maroons (1-0) with eight kills and had three in a row late in the first set to help swing momentum. “We definitely had to fight really hard to get back in it and come out with the win.”
There was little doubt about that.
Triad (0-2) had a 19-16 lead in the first set and was at game-point with a 24-22 advantage in the second. The Maroons twice were forced to dig deep twice and the resolve impressed coach Lauren DeGirolamo.
“It was a really tight match,” DeGirolamo said. “Obviously it was our first one this season, so I think the girls played a little bit tight, (they) were a little bit nervous. That showed to me, but it also showed that even when we played nervous and maybe not at our best, we can still pull out those tight victories.
“That’s a good sign for the future.”
Triad carried a 19-16 lead in the first set, but the Maroons went on a six-point run that included four kills by Hanger and five service points by Katherine Koch.
I think the girls played a little bit tight, (they) were a little bit nervous. That showed to me, but it also showed that even when we played nervous and maybe not at our best, we can still pull out those tight victories. That’s a good sign for the future.
West coach Lauren DeGirolamo
“Kaylee played well,” DeGirolamo said. “I think she did get us some really big kills at good times; she was kind of our go-to there in the first set when we were down. She served tough and kind of kept us in that first game.”
Triad fought back to 23-22 and 24-23, but lost the first set on a service error.
“I’m trying not to frighten them too much on serves, so this year I’m trying to tell them to just go for it,” said Triad coach Lee Coakley, whose team had seven service errors. “Let’s attack them with the serves, let’s show them what we’ve got, let’s move them around. If you can serve in good spots, you can throw off their offense so they can’t run their offense.”
After Hanger’s eight kills, Abby Hobbs (13 digs) and Nikki Gaskill had six kills each for West. Katherine Koch added 14 assists while Kacie Kinnikin contributed seven assists from her libero spot along with 11 digs.
Triad got five kills from senior Megan Schmiskie and three from senior Sidney Bloom.
With both teams aiding the other by making unforced errors, neither was able to establish much consistency.
The second set was an absolute slugfest with the lead rarely reaching above one or two points.
It was tied at 21, 23 and 24 before an ace by Hanger gave the Maroons a 25-24 lead. A block by Triad junior Kelly Pottorff tied it 25-25, but a Knights error allowed West to take the lead. With Kinnikin serving for West, another Triad error ended the match.
The loss of big hitters Kayla Juenger and Nicole Braner to graduation has transitioned the Maroons into more of a balanced squad, DeGirolamo said.
“We’re going to rely on our ball control, so that we can incorporate more hitters and get everybody involved,” she said. “I think our middles can be a really outstanding force for us. We’re going to rely on tough serves and making less errors.
“You didn’t see that today, but that is the goal for the future, to minimize our errors and get everybody involved.”