Following a 3-0 loss Friday evening on the road against the Wheeling Jesuit University Cardinals, the Rams (18-6, 6-4 MEC) bounced back Saturday afternoon against the West Liberty Hilltoppers (16-12, 7-6 MEC) by sweeping the Hilltoppers 3-0 (25-17, 26-24, 25-21).
In the first game, the Rams got off to a great start, but doubt had to creep into their minds when back-to-back attack errors were committed by sophomore setter Jessica Karcz and senior outside hitter Amanda Snowden, reducing the Rams’ lead to 12-10.
No matter what the Rams did early on, the Hilltoppers would not go away, refusing to let the game slip away from them.
A kill by Hilltoppers junior middle blocker/outside hitter Stepahnie Leonard cut the margin to 20-16, but the Rams would close out game one by going on a 5-1 run, which was finished off thanks to two consecutive assists by Karcz to Snowden, who posted two kills to end the opening game and give the Rams a 25-17 win.
Unfortunately for the Hilltoppers, a number of attack errors proved to be very costly, self-inflicting wounds that would continue to persist during the match.
Game two proved to be much more competitive, as both sides showed high amounts of resiliency. Neither team could gain any separation from the other, as each point became increasingly critical.
The Hilltoppers took a 22-20 lead thanks to a 5-0 run that excited the home crowd. The majority of these points were due to mental errors by the Rams, as four of the five points were due to either a service error or attack errors.
However, two kills in a row by freshman middle hitter Nicole Murray and senior middle hitter Christine Jackson, respectively, got the Rams back into the match and tied the game at 22-22.
Just moments later, with a 24-23 lead, the Rams were trying to close out the Hilltoppers, but a kill by Hilltoppers sophomore middle blocker/outside hitter Olivia Baumhoer kept the game alive for the Hilltoppers, tying the game at 24-24.
This effort was practically waisted by the Hilltoppers’ Mackenzie Sims, a sophomore defensive specialist, who could not concentrate and committed two consecutive attack errors to give the Rams a 26-24 win in game two.
As the Rams had learned through the first two games, closing out the Hilltoppers would not be an easy task, as game three would prove to be particularly stressful as well.
An attack error by Rams sophomore outside hitter Peyton Lindblad and a service ace by Hilltoppers junior right side/outside hitter Raimey Benson capped off a 4-0 run that gave the Hilltoppers a 12-9 lead.
After all of the heart the Hilltoppers showed, it looked like it was finally starting to pay off.
This story, however, would not have a happy ending for the Hilltoppers, as the Rams responded by going on a 12-4 run of their own to take a 21-16 lead. Lindblad, Karcz, Jackson, and sophomore outside hitter Cambriea Hill combined for six clutch kills in the run that was also due to several attack errors from the Hilltoppers, a trend that they could not seemingly get away from the whole match.
The only reason that the Rams did not win by a larger margin in game three was that after going on this run, the Rams followed up with three attack errors of their own, cutting their lead to 21-19, which only caused the Hilltoppers’ confidence to grow.
However, the Rams made up for these three attack errors with three kills to help close out match. Three out of the last four Rams’ points came off of kills by Lindblad and Snowden, who were set up with excellent volleys from Karcz. These final three assists by Karcz, who finished the match with 29, helped close out the match and end the Hilltoppers’ comeback attempt with a 25-21 game three victory.
Hill had an impressive day for the Rams, as she registered four digs and 13 important digs, which led the team in both categories. The Rams had a good balance in their attack as well, as Jackson, Lindblad, Hill, and Snowden had six, nine, nine, and 13 kills, respectively in the winning effort.
The Rams did lose in the digs and blocks departments, losing those battles 55-52 and 11-6, respectively. The Hilltoppers showed great hustle in getting to the ball and created many problems for the Rams with their timing, size, and length on the Rams’ kill attempts.
Hilltoppers’ senior middle blocker Sydney Scherer, Stephanie Leonard, and junior setter/right side hitter Amanda Leonard had seven, five, and four errors, respectively, causing the Rams a great deal of frustration during the match.
Sophomore outside hitter/defensive specialist Kailee Cunningham and Sims both posted double figures in digs for the Hilltoppers, finishing with 15 and 11, respectively. Baumhoer led the Hilltoppers in kills, totaling 10 in the match, as the next closest Hilltoppers had six, showing an uneven distribution in kills.
A number of mental errors ultimately doomed the Hilltoppers, as the continuous flow of errors only gave them more of an uphill battle.
Having won nine of their last 11 matches, the Rams will try to make it 10 out of the 12 when they host Urbana Friday evening, Nov. 3, at 7 p.m.
Anthony Bracken is the Sports Editor of The Picket. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org