After a tumultuous five months, Grant County area sports were finally back in full swing on Monday as the Mississinewa Indians volleyball team began their 2020 campaign against the Eastern Comets at Fisher Court.
It was not always pretty. There were gaffes in their play on occasion. At times, they were a well-oiled machine. At other points, they looked like a group that still needed time to put everything together – time that they had lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But at the end of the night, behind a tremendous performance from Darah Watson and a strong, all-around effort from the entire lineup, the Indians came away with a thrilling, five-set victory over the Comets (24-26, 25-22, 27-25, 22-25, 15-13).
In the first match of her senior campaign, Watson was the difference, collecting a team-leading 17 kills, including four in the final set. Her calm, steady demeanor, no matter what the Comets threw at them, kept the Indians in the match, and ultimately pushed them to a 1-0 start to the season.
“She was huge. She was huge tonight,” Havens said. “She was coming out of nowhere to make these plays. She’s always been that kid.”
Sophomore Mackenzie Austin, in her first major varsity action, finished with nine terminations, while senior Carly Bolser collected seven kills and 12 blocks, five of which were solo. Junior Megan Stanley and sophomore Daniella Joseph each added five terminations, while junior Jazzy Nicholson recorded 32 assists in her first contest as the Indians’ primary setter.
After a hard-fought first set went in the Comets’ favor, the Indians really seemed to find a groove in the second game. Eastern built an early 5-3 advantage, but a 9-2 run for the Indians put them up by four at 12-8.
Eastern rattled off five straight points to tie it up, eventually taking the lead for a brief amount of time, but a 7-1 surge from the Indians allowed them to regain the lead and hold it the rest of the set.
After battling for most of the third set, the Indians found themselves trailing 14-11 with momentum slipping away. However, senior Katie Hosier helped the Indians to regroup, serving six straight points, racking up an ace and two assists in the process.
The Comets pushed back, tying the contest at 25-25, before Bolser recorded back-to-back terminations to put the Indians in the drivers’ seat with a 2-1 sets advantage.
Mississinewa looked to have the match in hand in the fourth set, leading by five on multiple occasions, including 19-14 in the latter stages.
The Comets, however, forced a fifth set, outscoring the Indians 11-3 the rest of the way, swinging the momentum their way in the process. Mississinewa allowed five straight Eastern points off hitting and serving errors, and Comets’ senior Lorelai Evans added four kills.
“We kept taking opportunity after opportunity away from ourselves,” Havens said. “I’m not sure yet what’s responsible for that. I don’t know if it was more mental or if it was stuff we hadn’t drilled on quite yet. We still just have to put everything together.”
In need of a spark, Watson provided it in the final set, making remarkable plays all over the court, and most importantly, leading by example. She set the tone, scoring Mississinewa’s first point, and three of their last four, all via the kill.
“Whether she is feeling good or whether she is dealing with sickness or injury or whatnot, she is able to pull plays out of nowhere,” Havens said. “Tonight was a prime example. She was absolutely 100 percent reliable tonight.”
It certainly was not a perfect performance, but there are plenty of positives to build on. Bolser plans to use this contest as a teaching tool going forward.
“I saw them really starting to think. They were starting to pick apart the defense,” Havens said. “We were able to ask them, ‘Hey, I need you to put a ball somewhere,’ and they were able to start seeing for themselves. They just need the confidence to run the show themselves.”