NAPPANEE – The NorthWood volleyball team was a real “Payne” to deal with Thursday night.
The Panthers, playing with passion and purpose, put the hurt on Elkhart Memorial for a huge Northern Lakes Conference win.
Maddy Payne did the most damage on the night as the sophomore was sensational for the hosts in a 27-25, 25-20, 25-20 victory over the Crimson Chargers.
In a steamy Panther Pit. Payne was as cool as the other side of the pillow in turning in a tremendous performance for the Panthers.
“When we play a good team like tonight we come out and play like we know how we can,” explained Payne after the big win. “We play hard and we play aggressive. This was a really good win for us. We proved that we are able to be really good.
“I was pretty confident tonight. It’s all a mental thing. You have to tell yourself that you are going to go out and be awesome in the match.”
Awesome was an apt adjective to describe the effort of Payne.
The super soph did everything on this night, but make the popcorn in the concession stand.
Payne led her team with 17 kills in a dominating display at the net. She also had five blocks and two service aces.
“Maddy played really well tonight and lit a fire for us,” said NorthWood coach Hilary Laidig. “She did not play like a sophomore that’s for sure. She showed some grit. I heard her calling for the ball to be set to her and I love that.
“If we attack, good things happen for us and that was the case tonight. Our girls did play with emotion and passion. This is a huge win, especially mentally to take Memorial in three games like this.”
NorthWood won the key points in the match all night long, especially in a long first set. The Panthers trailed 16-10 in the opening set before rallying. NorthWood came back to tie the set at 22-22 before Memorial got a service ace from senior Morgan Gososki and a big kill from junior DeJanea Johnson to lead 24-22.
The Panthers showed their grit at the end of the opening set to seize the momentum. Down 24-22, Laidig took a smart timeout. The hosts then tied it at 24-24 on a kill by senior Haylee Pennington and an ace by sophomore Gracie Clark. The Chargers retook a 25-24 lead on a kill by junior Laney Austin before Memorial was called for a net infraction to make it 25-25. The Panthers then got two huge kills by Payne to take the opening set.
“Our girls won the big points tonight and to take that first set was big,” Laidig said. “We know how important that is mentally in the match and then we were able to build momentum from that.”
Payne also thought winning the first game was huge.
“It was a really good feeling to come back and win that first game,” said Payne. “That gave us momentum for the rest of the match.”
The second set was close at the start as NorthWood led just 7-6. The Panthers then moved ahead 11-6 before Memorial rallied to pull within 16-14. Clark then had a key ace in a stretch as the hosts built a 19-14 lead with three straight points. Memorial got within 21-18 late, but Payne slammed another key kill and teamed with star senior hitter Kennedy Wiens on a pivotal block to seal the win.
The third set featured plenty of strong play to go with some very shaky officiating. The officials had a long delay in play in the final game early on while figuring out a call. They then called a key replay with NorthWood leading 19-15 after a lengthy conference and another stop in play. Another pow wow, which included both Laidig and Memorial coach Jacquie Rost being called to the officials’ stand, was held late in the final game.
The Panthers got the final two points of the win on a block and a kill by Payne to end the 1:25 match.
NorthWood also got brilliant play from libero Whitney Gessinger. The junior was everywhere and led her emotion-charged team the entire match.
“We just moved her to left back,” said Laidig. “We made the switch and I like it. We were not getting to enough balls back there and she was involved in more plays tonight and that was big for us.”
NorthWood, which boasts a roster with six seniors, improves to 13-7 overall and goes to 2-1 in the NLC. The Panthers have wins over Plymouth and Memorial and a 3-2 loss to Concord. They still have league matches left with Goshen, Wawasee, Northridge and Warsaw.
“We would love to win the NLC,” said Laidig, whose team finished 17-17 overall and 2-5 in the NLC a year ago. “It’s been a long time (1997) since NorthWood did that. I think that it would fuel our fire for the postseason. But I love playing in the NLC because it gets us ready for the postseason.”
Memorial, which has been the standard setter in the NLC for a long time, drops to 5-12 overall and 2-3 in league play.
The Chargers, who have won 593 matches in Rost’s incredible 23-year coaching career, won 76 straight NLC matches from 2001-2012. Memorial has been to the Class 4-A State Finals on four occasions under Rost’s guidance with a pair of runner-up finishes.
Wiens slammed down nine kills and also had 14 digs and two blocks in her usual stellar all-around effort for the Panthers.
Gessinger finished with 16 digs and also led her team with three aces. Senior setter Courtney Lengacher had 33 assists. Clark had two aces and Alexis Klotz a pair of blocks.
The Chargers won the junior varsity match 18-25, 25-16, 15-10. Kate Rulli had nine kills for NorthWood. Ali Knepp had eight kills and an ace. Kendal Miller had 17 digs, while Alea Minnich had 12 and Caroline Mullet 24 assists for the JV Panthers.
NorthWood plays at Goshen and Memorial hosts Plymouth in NLC action Tuesday night.