Lately, the Oak Hill Golden Eagles volleyball team has been on a roll, and this is mostly attributable to the stalwart play of their top offensive weapon.
In their two contests prior to their matchup with Grant County foe Eastbrook on Thursday night, middle hitter Taylor Westgate has been nearly unstoppable. She recorded 17 kills against Mississinewa, before racking up 30 in a five-set thriller with Eastern.
On Thursday, she collected another 22 more, as the Golden Eagles picked up their fifth straight win in a three-set sweep of the Panthers (25-15, 25-13, 25-14).
“In practice, my teammates have pushed me a lot,” Westgate said. “They’ve really gotten me to where I am – and my coaches as well. It’s really been a team effort.”
While Westgate’s offensive play has been stellar of late, it would not be possible without the superb setting of fellow senior Ella Ridgeway. Ridgeway, who orchestrates the Oak Hill offense, was equally as notable, dishing out 36 assists and keeping the Golden Eagles in rhythm all evening long.
“That’s the way they’ve been working all season,” Oak Hill Head Coach Kristi Carmichael said. “They are a good pair.”
Abby Shaw and Julianne Gosnell each finished with six kills, while Alyssa Carmichael added five in the victory.
It was another remarkable team effort – a major factor in the Golden Eagles’ recent success.
“We’ve really connected this year and have gotten a lot closer – especially in practice,” Westgate said. “We have a better friendship and a better bond. That has really helped the chemistry out on the court.”
The first set was tied at 4-4 early, but the Golden Eagles responded with an 8-1 run to take a 12-5 lead they would not relinquish. The Panthers did not get any closer than five points the rest of the way.
Having already played two matches earlier in the week, the Golden Eagles did show a few lapses of energy, particularly in the early stages of the second set when the Panthers scored five of the first seven points.
But it did not take long for the Golden Eagles’ offense to regain their footing. Trailing 5-2, the Golden Eagle responded with another lengthy run – this time a 9-4 surge – to take an 11-9 lead. Oak Hill closed the set out with authority, scoring 14 of the last 18 points.
“I challenged the girls before the game and just told them, ‘I know you’re going to be tired, but this where we have to give it all. We have to push and not have any let-ups,’” Carmichael said. “There were a couple, but they came back together.”
The Golden Eagles faced another 5-2 deficit early in the third set, but they once again had the answer, using a 6-1 run to regain the advantage and ultimately cruise to victory.
Despite the loss for the Panthers, Head Coach Bailie Havens’ young squad showcased a plethora of positives. They made some excellent passes, and came away with several impressive digs on the back line, but lengthy Oak Hill runs at various points in the match seemed to throw them off their game, particularly on the offensive end.
“That seems to be the thing that happens when we play tough teams like this,” Eastbrook Head Coach Bailie Havens said. “They let a few points get away from them, and then it we just can’t catch up.”
Another one of those positives was the play of outside hitter Bri Stepp. Stepp was the smallest girl on the court, but she played as if she were the tallest. She finished with six kills for the Panthers, while also playing strong defense and diving for any ball in her vicinity.
“She will give you her all in practice. She will give you her all in any game, no matter what the circumstances,” Havens said of Stepp. “She could have the worst night of her life, and yet, she is still going to go for any ball. She is still going to swing and make good choices. And she has a great attitude.
“She’s a great kid. She’s a great player. I love having her on the team.”
Lexi Binkerd led the Eastbrook offense with seven kills and stood her ground against Westgate all evening.
“She worked hard,” Havens said. “It’s tough, I think, going up against somebody like Westgate. She’s a powerhouse, so I think that was tough for her, but I do think she stuck it out pretty well. She’s always a good attitude to have on the court and great to have around.”
Kayleigh Gross added five terminations of her own, while Blessing Geisler and Ava Walters each had two aces. Walters also led the Eastbrook defense with 12 digs.