LINCOLN — Making their first appearance as Elgin Public-Pope John at the State Volleyball Tournament, the Wolfpack made it one to remember with an opening round four-game victory over Ansley-Litchfield (A-L).
The Spartans won the first game 25-23, then the Wolfpack took control winning the final three games by the score of 25-16, 25-20 and 25-21.
Making their third appearance at state in the last five years, the Spartans had no answer for the Wolfpack who, arguably, played their best match of the season.
The Wolfpack attack accounted for 55 kills, 44 set assists, six ace serves and 77 digs.
“I told the girls you have to relax and play your game,” Coach Tina Thiele-Blecher said about the opening round match where the Wolfpack dropped the first game. “The middle of the first set I thought our nerves started to go away. Our defense was picking up balls. Our serve receive was doing what it needed to do … Our defense has to let our offense work and get those attacks. Swing hard, swing hard, swing hard. That’s what they did.”
A key to the match was keeping Spartan hitter Falan Ryan from dictating play at the net. The 6’ sophomore entered the tournament with 225 kills and 313 blocks. However, against the Wolfpack, she had just eight kills and three solo blocks.
In Game #1, the Wolfpack had to overcome nerves and they nearly rallied from a 23 to 19 deficit to win the game. EPPJ put together a four-to-zero run to tie the score at 23-all. Amy Nelson had back-to-back-to-back kills. Spartan Mariah Lane answered back with a kill to reach game point, then A-L won game one when a Wolfpack attack went long.
Coach Thiele-Blecher said she felt the team’s comeback in Game #1 was a turning point as, beginning in Game #2, the Wolfpack began to assert their will on the Spartans.
Tied at 5-all, the front row got kills from Elizabeth Selting, Grace Henn and Paige Meis.
Libero Jordan Mescher then put together six service points in a row, aided by two kills apiece from Henn and Nelson to build a 16 to 10 lead. From there, the Wolfpack cruised to victory as Baylee Wemhoff had an ace serve to go along with a number of set assists.
Nicki Payne’s kill followed by an ace serve from Calli Krebs got the Wolfpack off to a strong start in Game #3. Spartan Sara Lewis’ play at the net helped to keep A-L within striking distance. With the score tied at 8-all, the Wolfpack put together a nine-to-two run. Nelson had three kills and an ace serve while Selting and Henn each contributed a kill.
The teams then traded points as the Wolfpack took a 24 to 18 lead behind a kill from Selting. After a two-point run from the Spartans, Henn closed out the game with a kill.
Game #4 was tied at 8-all when the Wolfpack seized control. They put together a seven-to-one run as Mescher had an ace serve and Henn added three kills. To their credit, the Spartans tried to mount a rally. Several times they got to within two points, then the Wolfpack would bump their lead back to four points. Another kill by Payne made the score 18 to 14.
The Spartans, capitalizing on strong serving from Taylor Henry and a Sarah Lewis kill tied the score at 19-all. The Wolfpack closed out the match on a six-to-two run. Two serve points by Ally Wemhoff and a solo block by Meis turned the momentum back to the Wolfpack. Selting closed out the match with two more kills, Meis added one and, on match point, Nelson capped a big game with a solo block.
For the match, Selting led the Wolfpack with 19 kills, Nelson had 17, Henn posted 11, Meis added six and Payne was credited with two. Baylee Wemhoff led the team in set assists with 25, Ally Wemhoff had 19 and Payne posted nine.
Krebs had a team-high three ace serves, Nelson, Baylee Wemhoff and Mescher each had one. Selting, Nelson and Meis each had one solo block.
Mescher recorded a team-high 27 digs followed by Krebs with 16, Baylee Wemhoff added 10, Selting, Nelson and Ally Wemhoff each had six, Payne recorded three, Henn had two and Meis added one.
For the Spartans, Ryan and Jesse Shirley each had eight kills and Alyssa Bailey posted 15 set assists.
The loss dropped A-L’s record to 24-10.