NAPPANEE – One always remembers where they were when their heart was broken. For six NorthWood seniors, they will always remember watching their high school careers end while Fairfield celebrated on their court in the sectional a year ago.
For what could only be a bit of validation and redemption for the NorthWood players on this year’s team, getting Fairfield back in The Pit meant a lot.
NorthWood came out on fire, ripping 11 of the first 13 points of the first game in a statement that yielded a 3-0 win over its rivals Tuesday night.
While it’s just the regular season and not even a conference or tournament matchup, this one seemed to matter a little more for the home side. That chip on the shoulder for the returners from that sectional loss fueled a little more spirit in that first game, won by NorthWood 25-14. One of them, Whitney Gessinger, played with some kind of passion, letting her defense do the talking in several hustle ups from the back row, and plenty of spirited motivation for her teammates. Gessinger, one of two seniors, had a team-high 16 digs on the night.
But when Wood needed a spark, Maddy Payne was the go-to. Her kill ended a mini Falcon rally in game one, putting the Panthers up 22-14. A pair of Payne blocks opened up game two, part of her five total shutdowns. The team’s other senior, Riley Graber, hammered the final point of a 25-20 game two, sending Fairfield across the net once again stunned at the proceedings.
“That first set we had good execution and we got Maddy the ball,” said NorthWood head coach Hilary Laidig. “We had great sets and great passes from the back row. So they did listen to the plan coming in. It went well.”
A touch over and then a block by Payne helped Wood recover in game three, rallying from one down to one up at 21-20 in what was a much more balanced third game. Where NorthWood seemed in cruise control in the first two frames saw the third mirror more of what one would expect between the two sectional heavyweights. Fairfield’s Chloe Bontrager began to get her swing down, drilling a pair of kills in the late rally, part of her 12-kill performance.
What exposed Fairfield in games one and two caught up to them late in game three, where unforced errors bit them. A long rally at 23-22 NorthWood had Fairfield hit into the net, and Bontrager’s final rip into the net at match point sealed it for the Panthers.
“We said we block (Bontrager) no matter what,” pointed out Laidig. “Even if that meant we leave someone else open, we hoped that our scrappy defense could dig those out. But we wanted two blockers on Bontrager at all times.”
Kate Rulli also had a night for the Panthers, posting six kills, five aces and three blocks as well as one kick save and a couple diving attempts that won’t go on the scoresheet, but made a difference in the overall play.
“Kate’s attitude is contagious,” noted Laidig. “When she gets going, everyone else seems to rally around that because she is so fun to watch doing it. She’s gotten into the weight room over the summer and has put a lot of work in. She’s going to be really important for us.”
Caroline Mullet had 29 assists, Kendal Miller had nine digs and Ali Knepp netted six kills and three aces.
The NorthWood JV were very impressive in its 25-20, 25-6 romp of Fairfield. Annika Bennett had 11 assists and two blocks, Bre Wise nine digs, four kills and two aces, Ali Dutkowski five kills and Alana Lehman three blocks and two aces.
Fairfield won the C-team matchup 2-0.
NorthWood (5-3) will host Rochester Thursday night.