Top-ranked Norfolk Catholic overpowered No. 2 Battle Creek in the first two sets, then overcame a 10-point deficit in the third to defeat the visiting Bravettes 25-15, 25-14, 25-22 on Thursday at the Norfolk Catholic Activities Center.
“The first two sets especially, Catholic just took it to us,” Battle Creek coach Cody Wintz said. “They've got big girls in the middle, they get a lot of touches and I think that might have gotten in our girls' heads a little bit.”
Battle Creek looked to have the third set well in hand, leading 18-11 when middle Riley Seifert appeared to injure her ankle at the net. The senior normally plays in all six rotations, and her absence appeared to greatly affect the Bravettes' ability to run their offense.
“That's on me,” Wintz said, “because we haven't done enough in practice to put some of those girls in some of those situations to feel comfortable in an environment like that, and I'm kind of sick about that.”
The Knights, fresh off their championship run in Saturday's Columbus Classic frustrated Battle Creek early. Taylor Kautz and Hayden Wolf were able to make good passes on multiple Battle Creek attacks and create offense of their own.
“I thought our primary passers in serve-receive did a real good job and then we could get ourselves going and our hitters could swing at what they wanted to,” Norfolk Catholic coach Michaela Bellar said. “It really came down to passing for us and having great floor defense.”
Early in the first set, both teams displayed the skill and athleticism that has set them apart from other area squads with several long rallies that included spectacular plays on both sides of the net.
“They were digging up balls that we did get swings on and sending them back at us,” Wintz said.
The two sides were tied at 6 before a Battle Creek attack error gave Norfolk Catholic a lead it would not relinquish.
“We came out aggressive from the get-go, and that got us going for the whole game,” Bellar said.
Errors, many created by Norfolk Catholic's pressure, proved to be Battle Creek's biggest obstacle. In fact, the Bravettes finished the night with more errors (32) than kills (26).
“I think, at times, we were trying to avoid their hands,” Wintz said. “When you've got four hands in front of your face, above the net like that, sometimes you've got to use those hands to your advantage.
“When you give a good team a lot of points like I thought we did, it's going to be tough to beat them, and that proved to be true tonight.”
Norfolk Catholic used a pair of 4-0 runs in the first set that included a stretch where the Knights scored nine of 11 points.
“There were some quick rallies that we weren't transitioning on, and we had to go into tip mode a little bit,” Wintz said.
With the teams tied at 13 in the second set, Norfolk Catholic's Wolf turned the tide with back-to-back kills that started a 12-1 run to close out the set and give the Knights a commanding two-sets-to-none lead.
“We came out, wanting to control the game,” the Knights' Mary Fennessy said, “and the second set I feel like we could have started faster, but we still finished strong.”
Battle Creek then spent the early part of the third set showing why it is the area's No. 2-ranked team. Trailing 8-7, sophomore Kaitlyn Pochop came on to serve and dialed up 11 straight points to give the Bravettes an 18-8 advantage.
The run included four McLean kills while Seifert recorded two kills and a block.
But once again, Wolf changed the momentum with a kill. A Battle Creek error and Kautz service ace made it 18-11. That's when Seifert went down with the injury.
“Riley was rolling,” Wintz said. “She struggled a little bit in the first and second sets and she'd be the first to tell you that and then tweaked her ankle underneath the net. Then you could just see the wheels came off.”
Norfolk Catholic outscored Battle Creek 14-4 the rest of the way. Two Abby Miller kills ended the set and the match.
“Credit to them,” Bellar said. “They came out and played really well in that third set, but we knew we were going to have to serve tough and be really aggressive against them because they're a really good team.”
Wolf's nine kills led the Knight charge while Fennessy added five kills and four blocks. Anna Neuhalfen blasted two ace serves, and Carly Marshall dished up 22 set assists.
“Carly got her 1,000th assist tonight in just a year,” Bellar said. “We just started her setting last year when I got here, so she's done a real good job for us in doing what we've asked.”
Battle Creek's McLean had a match-high 11 kills along with six set assists and two service aces. Pochop added 10 assists while Renee Brummels recorded two solo blocks.
Both teams have O'Neill on the slate as their next opponent.
The Knights will battle the Eagles in the opening round of the Wisner-Pilger October Classic on Saturday. The winner will likely face a semifinal matchup with unbeaten St. Paul.
Battle Creek hosts O'Neill on Tuesday.
Norfolk Catholic def. Battle Creek 25-15, 25-14, 25-22
BC (22-3): Paytyn Taake 4s; Makenna Taake 4k; BriAnna Zohner 4k, 2s; 1a, 1b; Maddie Taake 2k, Kaitlyn Pochop 10s, 1a; Riley Seifert 5k, 1b; Renee Brummels 2b; Tria McLean 11k, 6s, 2a.
NC (19-3): Carly Marshall 22s, 1a; Mary Fennessy 5k, 1a, 4b; Anna Neuhalfen 1s, 2a; Abby Miller 5k, 2b; Taylor Kautz 1a; Hayden Wolf 9k; Channatee Robles 6k; Hannah Wilcox 2k, 1b.