SPARTA — The Centerburg High School varsity volleyball team, under first-year coach Ami Stevens, notched a victory in the opening match of the season on Saturday. The Trojans defeated the host Highland Scots in three straight games, 25-18, 26-24, 25-17.
“It is always nice to come out and get an opening win,” said Stevens. “We focused on what we’ve been working on in practice. I’m not so much looking at what (the other team) is doing as much as I am what we are doing — playing net balls, dropping below their hips, things that are going to make them successful.
“We’ve been scrimmaging, but I didn’t know how this was going to go. We still have a lot to work on, but I also saw some good things.”
In each of the first and third games, Centerburg jumped out to a significant lead and rolled to the wins. In Game 2, Highland served first and took a strong lead. The Trojans were too much, however, and rallied for the victory.
“I saw a lot of good things today, but I also saw a lot of things we need to work on,” said Highland coach Jennifer Appelfeller. “Our team is going through a lot of adjustments right now. ... I had higher expectations, but at the same time, the first game isn’t where you want to peak at. You want to peak at the end. We worked our butts off. It was just a matter of miscommunication and those first-game jitters.”
Highland scored first to start the match, but Centerburg answered with five straight points. The Scots once again tied the game at five, but a series of unforced errors by Highland helped the Trojans go on a 7-1 run. A rotation violation gave the ball back to the Scots, who managed to score the next five straight behind the serving of Samantha Zuber. A kill by Centerburg’s Kayla Moreland stopped the run before Highland could tie the match, however, and another series of unforced Highland errors put the Trojans up, 19-12. Highland managed to trim the lead by three, but Centerburg closed the match with a 6-3 spurt to take the 25-18 win.
The Scots jumped out to a 7-3 lead in Game 2, but the Trojans answered back to take a 12-10 lead after the first rotation. Highland tied the game three times before taking a 20-19 lead after a pair of aces by Zuber. The lead was short lived, though, as Centerburg tied the game on three occasions before moving ahead on a Highland net violation. A kill by Kristen Anderson gave Highland back the point and tied the game at 24, but a pair of misplayed balls gave Centerburg the victory.
“We talk everyday about communication and how important that is, and team chemistry out on the floor as well,” Appelfeller said. “I threw the girls into some situations today that, as a coach, you hate to do, but that had to make some adjustments in the middle of the match. They were playing next to girls that they were not used to, and it is hard when you don’t know one another. There was some stressing going on out there and they were getting frustrated, but ultimately, we will be better because of it.”
Down, but not out, Highland watched as Centerburg jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the third game. Senior Jess McCann pounded two big kills during that stretch. Highland tied the game at 4 after four straight Trojan errors, and took the lead after a kill by Anderson and a Centerburg net violation.
As it turned out, however, that was the last Highland advantage in the match. Centerburg rallied with a 12-4 run to take a 17-10 advantage. The Scots cut the lead to five on two occasions, but the Trojans were too strong and took the 25-17 win.
“This is one of the big matches every year that we want to win,” said Appelfeller. “It hurts to lose a game like this, but at the same time, they are not in our league. This is just a nonconference game. We just need to learn from it. ... This was opening day and it could have gone either way. We came out on the wrong end.”
Centerburg’s 1-2 punch of Tristen Simpson and Jess McCann led the way. Simpson had 10 kills and seven digs, and McCann slammed seven kills. MacKenzie Stoyle had 16 assists; Melody Maxwell had eight assists and three aces; Kayla Moreland had four aces; and Kayla Peck and Macy Michel made seven digs each.
“I was looking for some players to step up and take big swings, and Jess really surprised me today,” said Stevens. “She came out and hit the ball really well. It was really good to see her do that. Tristen also came out here in her first varsity match and played well. She is taking a big role on our team, and she handled it well. We still have a long way to go with her, but she is working hard.”
Anderson led Highland with seven kills, seven digs, one ace and three blocks. Zuber had four aces, four digs, four kills and three blocks; Payton Denman added 15 digs and two kills; Tarren Thacker finished with four kills and nine blocks; and Abby Keen had four digs and six assists. Cassie brown added eight digs; Shayla Pierce had two digs and seven assists; Kaitlyn Gleason had three aces and five digs; and Kaila Melvin made three digs.
Highland is back in action today, traveling to play Fredericktown. Centerburg faces Loudonville in the Mid-Buckeye Conference opener on Tuesday.