As Cleveland and Smithfield-Selma squared off against each other to open up play in the newly-formed Two Rivers 3A Conference, both volleyball teams focused their attention on striving for a consistent level of play.
After the Rams eased past the Spartans in three sets (25-15, 25-14, 25-23), both sides came away from the match knowing there was still work to be done.
Smithfield-Selma, winner of four straight matches coming into the contest, fell behind early in each of the first two sets as Cleveland methodically wore down the Spartans.
The slow start is something Spartan coach Chase Crocker knows his team can’t have entering play in what appears to be a very talented and deep conference.
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“Overall as a school we’re excited to be in the Two Rivers 3A Conference, but when you get to the volleyball part, it’s a little bit of a different story,” Crocker said. “We don’t have any room for off nights and I think we started out a little flat tonight.”
Cleveland (2-5 overall, 1-0 conference), who came into the match as a tested group after enduring a pre-conference schedule of perennial 4A powers, was able to get the ball to its big hitters early and often.
Senior setter Courtney Morris, who had her pick of big swingers to locate and outside hitters Walli Driggers and Alexis Ivey, as well as middle hitter Marina Roe, helped stake the Rams to a comfortable 2-0 lead.
But the third set would prove to be somewhat less comfortable for Cleveland as a resilient and scrappy Smithfield-Selma team stormed out to a 22-18 lead.
The Spartans’ Taylor Hamilton, Rachel Moore and Holly Rabil worked together to extend points but more importantly started to get the transition game going which resulted in more kill attempts and less free balls sent over, which Cleveland had routinely turned into points the first two sets.
“Going into that third set, I said if we we’re not in system, that’s fine but let’s just get some swings on,” Crocker said. “Every time we freed it over, Cleveland put them down.
“We did a better job in the third set obviously.”
Cassie Creech pitched in with a couple service aces and Moore continued to be a factor at the net to give the Spartans (4-4, 0-1) the lead late in the set.
But Cleveland battled back.
Krista Haschke came up with three aces of her own before Driggers’ sixth kill of the night capped off a 7-1 run to close out the match.
“Give credit to Smithfield; they were scrapping for the balls and they weren’t going to give up,” Cleveland coach Megan Morris said. “So our girls had to come back and fight for it.
“We’ve got to learn to be consistent if we want to make it to the playoffs and make it past the first round.”
Roe turned in an outstanding effort for the Rams as the junior led the team with seven kills. Driggers and Ivey each ended the match with six kills apiece while Morris finished with 27 assists.
“I think the fist two games, we played like we really know how,” Roe said. “That last game, Smithfield put up a fight and we didn’t play up to our potential and we should have come out stronger in the third game.
“But I’m happy overall with the win.”
Moore led the Spartans with seven kills and four blocks.