Mt. Pleasant tops Trojans in SEC battle
Energy and aggressive play fueled Mt. Pleasant volleyball to a four-set win in a back-and-forth battle against Fairfield on Tuesday night.
“Volleyball is just all about momentum,” Fairfield Coach Nancy Diers said. “There’s no other sport like it — you can be so on and get an eight-point lead, and then be so off in the next 15 seconds.”
There were plenty of momentum changes in last night’s match between Southeast Conference rivals, but the momentum started and ended on the side of the Panthers.
Mt. Pleasant topped Fairfield by a score of 25-15 in the first set. They lost game two by a score of 25-17, but claimed game three by a score of 25-15 and made a comeback in the fourth set to win the game, 25-20, and the match.
“The key was our energy,” Brianne Holtkamp said. “We definitely came together as a team and pulled it off. The student section brings us a lot of energy — the whole atmosphere does.”
In the first set, Mt. Pleasant took a big lead early with help from kills by Kelsi Phipps and Taryne Shull, forcing Fairfield to call timeout down 7-1.
“We came out playing fantastic — those first eight points were perfect,” Mt. Pleasant Coach Jeff Schulz said. “You have to give Fairfield credit for not rolling over, but we knew they wouldn’t.”
The Trojans couldn’t gain any ground in the first game, but they came out fighting in the second set.
Marissa Repp had a couple kills to help Fairfield to a 4-1 lead before Mt. Pleasant was able to battle back to a 7-7 tie.
The teams went point-for-point until Fairfield started pulling away, going up 17-14 on a kill by Cheyanne Laux.
The Trojans then went on a 7-3 run to end it and tie the match at one game each.
“If you get a few good digs, that picks people up,” Diers said. “That’s just part of volleyball. A lot of good things happened on the court for both teams, and a lot of ugly things happened on the court.”
The Panthers came back in game three with another big run early, going up 11-3 on a kill by Shull.
They never let up.
“When we start being aggressive, the momentum just takes off,” Holtkamp said.
Holtkamp served four straight points — two aces and two serves that the Trojans returned over the net, leading to kills by Phipps and Shayleigh Smith — to put Mt. Pleasant up, 17-7.
The Panthers led by as many as 14 at 23-9, and claimed a win to take back the advantage in the match.
In the last set, it seemed that momentum had swung back to the Trojans, as they consistently held an edge early in the game.
Fairfield went up by as many as seven, at 17-10 and 18-11, trying to force game five.
The Panthers clawed back, however, with help from a serving run by Ashley Loving that included three kills by Phipps, and they eventually tied the game at 20.
Brianne Potts served the last five points for Mt. Pleasant, and Mary Wester had two kills in that stretch. A block by Shull resulted in a lift call on Fairfield to end the game and the match.
“The girls have been practicing really well, and that carried over into tonight,” Schulz said after the contest. “When we’re playing well, we’re a tough team to stop.”
Playing well, he noted, starts in the back row.
“When you get a good pass, it leads to a good set, and that lets our hitters do what they do,” Schulz said. “Our passing was as good as its been the entire year, and that allowed us to run the offense we’ve been practicing.”
Key to the Mt. Pleasant defense and passing is Potts, the Panthers’ libero.
She was all over the floor last night, digging up just about everything Fairfield hitters could throw at her. She led the team with 27 digs.
“When she’s high-energy, it lifts the whole team, and she was just phenomenal tonight,” Schulz said. “Really, we saw two really outstanding liberos tonight.”
On the other side of the net was libero Sydney Burnett, who had 30 of Fairfield’s 91 digs and was a big asset to the Trojans’ serve receive, which struggled at times.
“Serve receive has been a nemesis for us,” Diers said. “Certain rotations need to work to get better at it.”
Meanwhile, the Panthers were not making it easy on Fairfield.
“Our serves across the board are great — that has been our No. 1 focus from a skill standpoint on this team,” Schulz said. “The girls have really bought into in and are doing a great job.”
Mt. Pleasant has upped its serving efficiency from 90.1 percent last year to 92.4 percent this year, and has already passed last year’s total of ace serves — the Panthers had 173 aces in 32 matches last year, and are at 222 through 26 matches this season. They had a 93.3 percent efficiency last night.
They are averaging more than three aces per set this season, but Fairfield limited the Panthers to nine aces in four sets last night.
The Trojans had seven aces of their own on 93.8 percent serving, led by Kelsey Roberts with three.
Repp led the Trojans’ attack with 11 kills. Hanna Greiner and Brooke Stever added four each. Alexis Ring had 15 assists and Kelsey Roberts had seven. McKenna Ledger put up three blocks. Laux had 24 digs and Ring added 14.
“We’re fighting some injuries and we’re trying to patch some things together, and I thought our effort was really good tonight,” Diers said.
Loving, the Mt. Pleasant setter, led the Panthers with 26 assists last night, and Hannah Becker added nine.
The pair aided a number of Panther hitters — all of whom stand near six feet tall and hit hard.
Shull had a team-high 10 kills, while Holtkamp and Phipps each added nine. Wester contributed eight kills, while Lydia Smith had four and Shayleigh Smith had two.
The height on the Mt. Pleasant side of the net helps with blocking, too — the Panthers had 10 blocks on the night to Fairfield’s seven. Phipps put up four blocks and Shayleigh Smith had three.
MP is now 22-4 and remains undefeated in the SEC at 6-0. Ft. Madison is the only team that can take the conference crown from the Panthers; they are currently 4-1 and are the next SEC match on the Panthers’ schedule — the teams meet on Thursday, Oct. 17. First, however, the Panthers will play in their home tournament on Saturday.
Fairfield is now 11-10 on the season and 2-3 in the conference.
They play at Oskaloosa on Saturday.