When it comes to volleyball, offensive fluidity is the key to success.
Several different factors go into making an offense work – effective movement, precision passing, and of course, finishing.
When an offense is clicking on all cylinders, it can be difficult to stop, and the Mississinewa Indians found that out for themselves against the Oak Hill Golden Eagles on Monday night.
Behind tremendous performances from Taylor Westgate and Ella Ridgeway, combined with the sturdy play of Oak Hill’s strong supporting cast, the Golden Eagles earned the win over their longtime Grant County rival in their conference opener, sweeping the Indians in straight sets (25-18, 25-23, 25-14).
Westgate, who has been an excellent weapon for the Golden Eagles throughout her senior season, was locked in throughout the match, recording 17 kills and compiling a .297 attack percentage.
“She’s a leader, and our girls look to here,” Oak Hill Head Coach Kristi Carmichael said. “She did well tonight. She was great.”
While Westgate provided a majority of the offense, Abby Shaw, Alyssa Carmichael, and Julianne Gosnell were equally as impressive, each collecting seven terminations.
“They’ve all been working very hard on their attacking,” Carmichael said. “The whole offense just works together.”
Ridgeway orchestrated the offense to perfection, dishing out 31 assists and helping the Golden Eagles to establish their rhythm throughout the course of the contest.
“You can’t do anything if you can’t get a set,” Carmichael said. “Ella is phenomenal at setting. She brings so much experience. That’s what you look for in a senior, and that’s why you have her on the floor.”
Darah Watson and Mia Catey co-led the Indians’ attack with five kills, while Carly Bolser finished with two kills, two blocks, and two aces.
The first set was close in its early stages, with both teams playing to a 4-4 tie. However, the Golden Eagles rattled off a 12-3 scoring surge to take a double-digit lead they would not relinquish. Mississinewa was able to cut the Oak Hill lead to as little as four, but the Golden Eagles closed the set out with three straight points.
In the first half of the second set, Oak Hill struggled with hitting errors, with helped the Indians build a little momentum of their own. With the set tied at 14, three Oak hill hitting errors, a Catey kill, and a Watson ace gave the Indians an 18-14 advantage.
But the Golden Eagles quickly regained their mojo, recording eight straight kills to turn that 18-14 deficit into a 24-23 lead.
Westgate’s emphatic block on match point completed the comeback, giving the Golden Eagles a 25-23 victory and a two-set cushion.
“I was just trying to emphasize to them to make everything into an attack,” Oak Hill Head Coach Kristi Carmichael said. “With those passes that we had, we were able to do that. We have [such] strong hitters, so that’s helpful as well.”
From that moment on, the Golden Eagles rode a wave of momentum, scoring eight of the first 10 points of the final set and never looking back.
“Volleyball is such a mental sport,” Carmichael said. “Sometimes it works in your favor and sometimes it doesn’t. That second set – being able to dig in there – that was huge.”
With the win, the Golden Eagles improved 6-4 overall and 1-0 in the CIC.
While the Golden Eagles’ offense was nearly flawless, The Indians struggled to get that part of their game going, collecting just four kills in the first set, seven in the second, and two in the third.
“We definitely felt we were on our heels most of the night,” Mississinewa Head Coach Jody Bolser said. “We were on the defense, never really taking ownership of running our offense.”
After controlling most of the second game, they saw their lead, and ultimately the set, slip away, and they were unable to recover.
“I feel like we focused on that a lot in practice – that come from behind mentality,” Bolser said. “And we did not handle that tonight. We struggled with that.”
Despite the loss, there is no question that the Indians are a talented team in their own right. They have a plethora of young players who are not only skilled, but have shown glimpses of their potential throughout the course of the season.
Bolser sees it, and her coaching staff sees it. Now, her goal is to make her players see it.
“I [just] don’t think they recognize their abilities yet,” Bolser said. “It does look different this year, but they are an athletic bunch and a smart bunch, so when they can rest in that and be assured in that, I don’t think that their response will be [a] lack of confidence.
“We have to find our fight, and not allow nights like this to happen anymore.”