The Class C No. 2 Pierce Bluejays righted their ship in a big way, sweeping the Lutheran High Northeast Eagles 25-17, 25-23, 25-16 on Thursday night at the Andrews Activities Center.

“I thought we looked a lot better in a lot of areas,” Pierce coach Zach Weber said. “I thought we served extremely well. We were aggressive. We hit our spots extremely well. It was efficient.

“We served well, and that’s really what makes the difference in our attack that got us in system a lot more, that got our setter an opportunity to run different actions and set different people.”

Pierce entered the contest with adversity. On Tuesday, the Bluejays had an 11-match winning streak snapped by Hartington Cedar Catholic, which came back from being down 1-0 to beat them in four sets.

The next day, the Bluejays came into practice ready to bounce back, something that stood out to Weber.

“Even after losing the game on Tuesday, the attitudes coming into Wednesday’s film session and going into Wednesday’s practice were excellent,” he said. “That shows that we have high-character kids and we also have very, very good leadership, and they did an excellent job leading us through.”

Pierce High’s resilience showed the most in the second set. The Eagles, down 1-0, tied up the set 23-23 and forced the Bluejays to take a timeout.

Maggie Painter helped them answer with a kill on the first rally out of the break. An attack error by Kendra Petersen allowed Pierce to win the set and take a 2-0 lead.

The late kill was perhaps the biggest for Painter, who led the Bluejays and all players with 16 of them. The junior outside hitter was proud of how her team improved in so many aspects of the game, most notably serve and serve receive.

“I definitely think our serve and serve receive was way better than it has been,” she said. “But we just keep improving from day to day.”

Jaya Wachholtz, another junior outside hitter, wasn't far behind Painter with 15 kills. The tandem, described by Weber as “top-level” outside hitters, was big in regard to playmaking, especially in the case of Wachholtz, who’s dealing with an undisclosed injury.

“She’s been really limited in practice, and that’s been affecting us ever since the Norfolk Catholic game,” he said. “She’s done a great job holding it together, being tough through her injuries and still putting up big numbers for us.”

Pierce used the momentum from the second set to get out to a 4-0 lead in the third. Lutheran High fought back to make it 6-6, but the Bluejays countered with a 10-3 run. The Eagles kept it close but not enough to get within range of the Bluejays, who used one last kill from Painter to complete the sweep.

The game was a rematch between the Bluejays and Eagles. They last faced off on Sept. 10, with the Bluejays prevailing 2-1.

Once again, Lutheran High came up short and coach Kathy Gebhardt wanted to see the team step up to the challenge more than it did. Gebhardt said she felt that the Eagles should be able to do more with what they can control.

“When we kind of get them out of system and they’re making easy swings, we have to stick those digs, we have to take care of the ball on our side of the net,” she said. “We know they’re going to get some great swings and that’s going to be really hard defensively at times, but really controlling the things that are happening on our side of the court that we can control.”

Gebhardt knew coming in that Pierce’s outside hitting would be tough to slow down, much as it was in their previous matchup.

“We knew they attack very aggressively all the time and that was going to be tough and we came up with the best game plan that we thought we could,” she said. “If our block could be a little bigger there to help slow them down, that would be helpful.”

Neither the Bluejays nor the Eagles could get out to more than a two-point lead to start the first set. A kill by Kendra Petersen — who led the Eagles with 11 on the night — cut into Pierce’s lead to make it 11-10.

A kill by Painter kickstarted a 10-4 run to help the Bluejays get out to a 21-14 lead. Faith Baumgartel had a kill to slow them down, but Pierce closed out the first set with a 4-2 run.

Both teams return to action for home matches on Tuesday. Pierce hosts Laurel-Concord-Coleridge while Lutheran High takes on Norfolk Catholic.

Pierce (13-2) 25 25 25

LHNE (8-10) 17 23 16

PIERCE (kills-aces): Claudia Riggert 7-0, Skylar Scholting 2-0, Jaya Wachholtz 15-1, Ciara Garcia 6-0, Brielle Unseld 2-1, Morgan Moeller 1-0, Maggie Painter 16-1.

LUTHERAN HIGH NORTHEAST (kills-aces): Josie Spence 4-0, Avery Koeppe 4-1, Kendra Petersen 11-0, Sophia Wolff 7-0, Mia Wiederin 6-0, Delaney Rose-Hancock 1-0, Hannah Fouts 5-0.

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