Lady Pilgrims roll past Clay at Penn

MISHAWAKA — It took Plymouth a little while to get rolling in their Penn Sectional-opener with Clay Thursday night. Once they got started, there was no stopping the Lady Pilgrims.
After falling behind early in the first set, Plymouth pretty much dominated in a three-set, 25-9, 25-20, 25-12 victory over the Colonials at the Palace.
The Pilgrims advance to play Mishawaka Saturday at 12:30 p.m. after the Cavemen’s three-set 25-13, 25-12, 25-7 win over Adams in Thursday’s opener.
“We definitely wanted to play excellently and play Clay with a lot of respect as a team that could beat us because they’re athletic. Any time a team is very athletic with lots of good jumpers and good hitters, we knew we have to take it seriously, and I thought we did. The players really responded to that,” said Plymouth volleyball coach Doug West. “They’ve had some trouble with serve receive, with their passing. We felt like we could serve them out of system, and I thought we did a pretty good job of that.
“This was a very important match for us to play well and start to feel like this is a place that we like to play.”
After showing some early sectional jitters, the Pilgrims made themselves at home pretty early.
Plymouth fell behind 5-1 in the first game but went on to rattle off 13 unanswered points and steal the early match momentum with a lopsided 25-9 victory in game one. The two teams were knotted at 3-all in the second set before a string of six straight points and a later 4-0 mini-run put the Pilgrims out front for good. In the third set, the teams traded points at the front end, but a 6-1 Plymouth run snapped a 5-5 tie, and the Lady Pilgrims went on to close it out in three.
“As I think about the first game, the first six points, they’re up 5-1, and then all of a sudden, like four or five minutes later, we’re up 14-6,” said West. “It’s like we just started to get untracked and we started to play really at a high level. It’s really nice to have a team be able to do that.”
Plymouth benefitted from a balanced attack led by Emily Eveland’s 10 kills. Libbie Portteus and Lacy Poczik each racked up eight kills, and Hunter Stevens finished with six as setter Haley Harrell passed out 33 assists on the night..
Eveland and Stevens finished with four and two aces, respectively, while Ellen Smith recorded nine digs followed by Harrell’s eight.
“(Emily) played very well tonight. She’s very solid as an attacker and did a nice job serving and some good things with the ball handling as well,” said West. “But it was definitely a team effort. Lacy was hitting out of the middle really well and Libbie was as well. Hunter hit well; she started off slow but then she got untracked and really attacked well. So I felt like we had a really good team win with lots of good setting and attacking off of fairly consistent ball-handling.”
With the Pilgrims in control throughout Thursday’s late quarterfinal, Plymouth saw several bright performances from its reserves against Clay as well led by sophomore Jillian Smith’s three kills and three digs, as well as freshman Ashley Harrell, who finished with three digs and an ace will serving out the final four points of the match.
“That was another aspect of tonight that I was really happy about, to give a few of our key support players opportunities to help us win and to play well so that later on in the tournament when they’re called upon again they’ll be able to play well and it’ll seem like a very natural thing,” West explained.
The Pilgrims now advance to play Mishawaka in the late semifinal Saturday, tentatively scheduled for 12:30 p.m. following and earlier match between Washington and Penn at 11 a.m. The title match is scheduled for 7 p.m., and the Pilgrims are fully expecting a championship berth.
“What’s next is getting two good nights’ rest and getting a nice practice tomorrow where we just sharpen up our fundamentals and just come into Saturday with a real fresh ‘Hey we’re going to be here all day and all evening, that’s our goal.’ We want to play at a high level with very few lapses. I’m really proud of our team. We’re off to a good start.”
CLAY 0 (25-9, 25-20, 25-12)
At Penn Sectional
Plymouth stats
Kills: Emily Eveland 10, Libbie Porteus 8, Lacy Poczik 8, Hunter Stevens 6
Assists: Haley Harrell 33
Aces: Eveland 4, Stevens 2
Digs: Ellen Smith 9, Harrell 8
Record: Plymouth 15-17.