PIERCE — Class C No. 3 Pierce won for the ninth consecutive time on Thursday with a 26-24, 28-26, 25-8 victory over struggling Lutheran High Northeast at the Pierce High School gymnasium.
"Our girls did a really good job, bouncing back after a slow start," Pierce coach Zach Weber said. "Once we established Jaya (Wachholtz) and Kennedy (Warneke) on the outside, I think they had a tough time stopping those two in particular."
The nine straight wins coincides with the Pierce coaching staff's decision to make wholesale changes after starting the season 2-3, including moving Wachholtz from middle to the outside.
"I think we're connecting really well with the setters and we're playing really good defense and putting things together that we weren't before," Wachholtz said.
As with its match on Tuesday, a five-set loss to Class D No. 1 Howells-Dodge, Lutheran High had trouble closing out sets, losing two more close ones.
"I love these girls and they can do so many good things, but we just cannot finish that tight set and I don't know why," Lutheran High coach Kathy Gebhardt said. "We're just trying to figure it out, and we keep pushing them; they're right there."
In set one, Lutheran High scored the first three points and led until a Wachholtz kill tied it at 16 and a Warneke ace serve gave Pierce its first lead at 17-16.
It was a roller-coaster ride from there.
There were three more ties and two lead changes from that point on. With Lutheran High leading 23-22, the Eagles' server was called for a delay of game, which tied the score at 23.
The Bluejays responded with Brielle Unseld's service ace for a set point at 24-23 before Lutheran High's Kendra Petersen fought it off with a kill to tie it at 24.
A Warneke kill gave the Jays another set point, and a Lutheran High attack error ended it at 26-24 for Pierce.
The second set saw 16 ties and eight lead changes. Mia Furst tied it at 24 and gave Lutheran High a one-point lead and set point with back-to-back kills.
Warneke answered for Pierce with back-to-back kills of her own before another Furst kill tied it at 26.
Then, another Warneke kill put Pierce up 27-26 and an Eagle error ended it at 28-26, to give the Bluejays a commanding two sets to none advantage.
Weber said as the match wore on, his team did a better job in the middle. "We got a lot more quality touches at the block," he said.
Offensively, Weber said his setter, Unseld, did a good job of involving all of the attackers. "She did a really good job of incorporating the middles," he said. "I thought Jozy and Elly Piper played a really strong game."
As close as the first two sets were, the third was anything but. "We came out with a lot of energy, and we had the mindset that we wanted to finish it and sweep them in three," Warneke said.
Pierce scored the first five points and never led by fewer than four points the rest of the way to close it out at 25-8.
"We go up against these good teams, and after a five-set loss the other night and those two tight sets and the third set, we were just done, I guess," Gebhardt said.
"But give Pierce a ton of credit. They're a very solid team. They're playing great volleyball, so lots of kudos to them; their coaching staff and the girls they have are very talented."
Weber said his team spent most of the third set in system. "We have a really, really good front five and when we can be on the net and swing like that, it's going to be tough to stop," he said.
Libero Morgan Moeller began the third set serving during a 5-0 Pierce run. "She was getting them out of system and they were sending us free balls, and that's where I think the big difference was," Weber said.
Warneke and Wachholtz led the Bluejays with 16 and 14 kills, respectively. Maggie Painter had two service aces while Unseld dished out 42 assists and Jozy and Elly Piper had three blocks apiece.
Furst's 14 kills and two service aces were tops for the Eagles. Buhrman and Kealy Ranslem finished with 13 and 12 assists, respectively.
Pierce is 11-3 and gets back into action on Saturday at the Wisner-Pilger September Classic. The Bluejays are slated to square off with Chambers/Wheeler Central in the opening round.
Lutheran High is 10-7 and travels to Crofton on Tuesday for a triangular with Norfolk Catholic and the host Warriors.
The win was Pierce's second over Lutheran High this season. "They're doing great things," Gebhardt said. "It's fun to see them play at that level. We're competing with them, we really are, and we can, but we just have to get our girls to keep believing."
PIERCE DEFEATED LUTHERAN HIGH NORTHEAST 26-24, 28-26, 25-8
LUTHERAN HIGH NORTHEAST (10-7): Kealy Ranslem 12s, 1a; Kendra Petersen 4k, 1s; Mia Furst 14k, 2a; Lauren Buhrman 5k, 13s, 1a, 1b; Mia Wiederin 2k; Alyssa Marotz 3k; Amber Bockelman 2s.
PIERCE (11-3): Jaya Wachholtz 14k; Kennedy Warneke 16k, 1a; Brielle Unseld 2k, 42s, 1a; Morgan Moeller 1a; Maggie Painter 2k, 2a; Elly Piper 5k, 3b; Reagan Theisen 1a; Jozy Piper 5k, 3b.