WINONA LAKE – Hannah Clemmons claims to possess a strong passion for hitting the volleyball.
That was very apparent Tuesday night as the Grace College sophomore showed off her big right arm swing in impressive fashion.
Clemmons, who is generously listed at 5-9, played a big, big match in leading the Lancers to a 3-1 win over Marian in first-round action of the Crossroads League Tournament in the Orthopaedic Capital Center.
Clemmons, a jumping jack of an outside hitter, peppered down a match-high 14 kills to lead a balanced Grace offensive attack as the hosts prevailed 25-23, 27-29, 25-18, 25-21.
The fourth-seeded Lancers (22-13) advance to play at top-seeded Indiana Wesleyan (33-2) Thursday at 7 p.m. in one semifinal. The other semifinal will have No. 7 seed Goshen College (16-21) at No. 3 seed Bethel College (22-11), also at 7 p.m. Thursday. The winners meet in the tourney finale Saturday.
Indiana Wesleyan defeated Saint Francis 3-0, Goshen edged Taylor 3-2 and Bethel bested Mt. Vernon 3-1 in other first-round matches Tuesday night.
Senior Arielle Walters and freshman Alix Underwood each had 11 kills and junior Dana Johnston 10 to power the Lancers.
Clemmons, who played at state and national prep power Muncie Burris, felt right at home pounding the ball versus the Knights.
“My passion is hitting and it definitely is my favorite thing to do,” said Clemmons, who also had 14 digs. “It’s good for me. That’s what I did in high school. I know that since I’m not as tall as most hitters that I have to jump my highest to hit every ball.
“We knew we had to win for our seniors tonight. We were able to dig deep and turn it around in the final two sets tonight.”
Grace had split versus Marian (14-14) during the regular season. The Lancers won 3-0 at home on Sept. 19 and then lost 3-1 at Marian Oct. 24. That match was the last one the Knights had played before Tuesday, a layoff of 13 days.
The Lancers overcame a slow start Tuesday night. The hosts trailed 16-7 in the opening set before using runs of 6-0 and 5-0 to rally back for the win. Underwood, a 6-0 freshman from Muncie who played at Cowan High School, provided a big spark at the net for the hosts, while freshman Jessica Scherb (Carmel) was key from the service line late in the opening set victory. Underwood came off the Grace bench to slam five key kills in the opening set.
“Alix is a fiery freshman and she was key for us tonight,” said Grace coach Andria Harshman. “She made huge plays at big moments. When she’s in system, she can play with the best of them. She’s a middle, who we are training to be an outside hitter.”
Grace had several chances to put away set two as they led 24-22, 25-24 and 26-24 late. The Knights rallied to even the match as 6-0 Morgan Merrill and 6-1 Ashley Francis, two towers in the middle, came up with big kills down the stretch.
The Lancers tightened up their defense and served strong in the final two sets. Grace controlled set three all the way through and then used a key 8-1 run in the final set to take control.
“We have a unique team in that at times tonight we had four freshmen and two sophomores on the court,” Harshman said. “We had to understand that we needed to be in control and inflict our will on them. I think set one was just our youngness.
“I thought our defense stepped up. We adjusted some things and were in better position the final two sets. Hannah spurred us on. No. 6 (Francis) is very good. We practiced a lot to stop her.”
Walters, one of three seniors for Grace, said it was all about a mindset.
“It was an attitude of no way we were losing this match, the last one here for us seniors,” said Walters, who played at Elkhart Christian Academy. “It was tenacity. Everyone stepped up, especially with our serve receive tonight. We had more communication later in the match and did a good job spreading out our offense.”
Freshman libero Annie Salazar led the Grace defense with 23 digs. Sophomore Calah Kruse and senior Bethany Whitcraft each had 11 and Scherb 10. Johnston, Grace’s top hitter on the season, had five solo blocks. Walters had a career-best seven block assists and senior Stefanie Bolt five.
Freshman Sarah Tullis had 25 assists and Whitcraft 24 as the pair shared setting duties. Sophomore Christina LeBlanc, Grace’s starting setter, has been sidelined for about the last month due to a concussion.
Francis was the lone Marian hitter in double digits in kills with her 12. The Knights attack percentage for the match was only .067. Jaymee Singleton, one of two seniors, led Marian with 25 digs.
While top-seeded Indiana Wesleyan sports a gaudy 33-2 record, one of those losses was a 3-1 setback to Grace at IWU on Sept. 5. IWU, ranked No. 8 in NAIA, then won 3-2 at Grace on Oct. 10.
“I’m completely confident about Thursday,” concluded Clemmons. “We want it so bad and we play our best versus IWU.”