KIRTLAND—After a long week off, Kirtland returned to the court this week with a key conference win over Cardinal on Monday and then beat visiting Perry in a non-conference matchup on Wednesday, 3-0.
The Hornets have now won six straight matches after opening the season with a loss to defending Division III state runner-up Independence. Kirtland has won 18 of 22 sets played.
“We still have two more matches left to go this week,” said Kirtland coach Arlayna Newcomer. “We had zero games last week, so luckily we had some time to prepare but with too much time you sometimes get into a lull and it’s tough to get back into it.”
Any concerns Newcomer had about her team not being ready for two of its biggest matches of the season were quickly put to rest.
The Hornets swept Cardinal in a rematch of last season’s Division III district championship and then knocked off Perry in a showdown of two of the Chagrin Valley Conference’s divisional winners from 2020.
Kirtland beat the Pirates, 25-18, 25-23, 25-16.
“We take it one day at a time and we build off the things that we’re doing well and we learn from the mistakes that we make,” Newcomer said. “We just hope to get a little bit better every game.”
The Hornets used an aggressive serve to keep the Pirates off balance and out of their offensive system, a key tactic to limit the kill opportunities for Perry standout hitter Sammie DiBease.
“We spend a lot of time in practice on the things that we know that we aren’t the best at and we’re seeing a ton of turnaround,” Newcomer said. “We spend a lot of time on serving because last year, our serving wasn’t bad but it definitely has improved immensely. We still make errors here and there but we’re really trying to turn the page and be aggressive. We know at the end of the day, if we’re going to go down, we want to go down being aggressive and our terms.”
Kirtland’s service was nearly flawless against the Pirates and using an aggressive style forced Perry into more free ball returns.
When the Pirates did run their system, the Hornets’ defense kept the ball off the floor.
“We talk about best effort a lot,” Newcomer said. “We want to be that team that gives everything we have for every single ball. We’ve played teams like that and when you see a team like that, you respect them and you see how good that can make a team. We strive for that and we’re finally putting those pieces together instead of it being the other team. We’re taking it into our own hands and becoming that team other teams talk about.”
Kirtland setter Katie Reynolds was masterful in distributing the ball to her hitters.
She finished the match with 28 assists and four service aces.
Nina Loncar posted a team-high 15 kills and Georgia DeJohn contributed with 13 kills. Ava Golem led the Hornets with 20 digs.
“Across the board, I thought we did a good job,” Newcomer said. “It was a good performance across the board. Katie does a really nice job of setting our offense and setting the pace of the offense. I’m trying to get her to remember that she can also be an attacking piece of our offense other than just setting. I’m trying to get her more involved in that way. She did that and threw over a few a couple of times to catch them off their toes. Overall, she responds really well. She’s a really coachable kid.”
The loss was the first of the season for the Pirates, who dropped to 6-1.
Perry played without two starters and some tired legs after playing two long matches on Monday and Tuesday before heading out to Kirtland.
“It’s our third night in a row and both nights were late nights,” said Perry coach Mike Fitzgerald. “Monday we didn’t get home until 11, so they’re pretty exhausted and we’re out two starters–both of my middles–but our passing up front wasn’t doing it today. We didn’t get it done.”