NAPPANEE – It may not have been planned in the summer, but construction headaches on NorthWood’s campus may have created a sneaky homecourt advantage.
Making its temporary home in the AC Building on the high school campus, NorthWood’s volleyball team is building quite a cozy little corner. That corner got pretty rowdy in an impressive 3-0 sweep of Mishawaka Marian Thursday night.
“You hear the fans and it’s really loud,” started NorthWood head coach Hilary Laidig. “The loud in here is great. The kids are getting used to it. When we practice in here, they know you can’t hear as well and they’ve started to use that as an advantage. It certainly has to throw you off if you are another team when you can’t think.”
With just a short stack of bleachers to the eastern side of the court, seating was at a premium. And with a large contingent of students in the corner, both at the start and filtering in from various athletic contests and practices, energy just got higher as the night went on. Kill attempts were careening off patrons in camping chairs. Services were flying into passer’s by on the backlines. Quite a new look. And one NorthWood fed upon against a feisty Marian side.
NorthWood’s size advantage was evident in the first game, where big kills from Kate Rulli and Maddy Payne sent the Panthers to a 25-18 win to start the night.
NorthWood again raced out to a nice lead in game two, using three unforced Knights errors to claim a 19-13 advantage. A Payne block put Wood back up six, but Marian would score six of the next eight points to claw back to 23-21 home team. Caroline Mullet, who has become quite a versatile weapon for the Panthers, caught Marian napping on the back and pushed a shot into the corner to close out a 25-23 second game.
Mullet, who hung 31 assists in her characteristic role as setter, also dug 18 attempts and made several decisions at the net to send balls into Marian space rather than the predictable setup.
As Marian began to key heavily on Payne in game three, NorthWood’s outside options stepped up to make key plays. Alea Minnich sent home a pair of kills and Ali Knepp dropped a shot into space to bring Wood back to trail 21-19. Knepp’s point would spark a mini 4-0 run, and after NorthWood closed out a 25-23 final set, Laidig noted the importance of her whole group of hitters making their mark.
“We were missing so many second serves, and when you can’t get those down, it kills so much momentum,” Laidig said. “I think that’s what caught us up, especially in the second and third games, when you are serve-miss, that kills.
“Ali and Alea are going to have to be consistent for us, and they had some big moments for us tonight. When teams sell out on Maddy and want to block her, that’s going to leave them one-on-one on the outside and I’ll take that. They both have great ups and can get up there and hit the ball.”
Minnich finished with seven kills and Payne piled up 15 kills and six blocks in what was a solid night covering the middle. Kennedy Hochstetler added 17 digs and a pair of aces while Alana Lehman had a pair of blocks and Kendal Miller added an ace.
NorthWood’s varsity win polished off a program sweep of the Knights. The freshman took care of business on the west side of the AC with a 25-16, 25-9 win while the JV completed a 25-23, 25-19 victory. Annika Bennett had 11 assists, seven digs, six kills and five aces in the JV contest for the Panthers.
NorthWood, which finishes a three-games-in-four-days run at 2-1 against Class 1-A No. 19 Bethany Christian, Class 4-A No. 11 Penn and Class 3-A No. 9 Marian, head back to Penn Saturday to take part in the Tom Heck Tourney.
“The girls are doing a great job,” pointed out Laidig. “If we would have went 1-2 it wouldn’t have been a bad week considering who we were playing. Marian and Penn are tough. Hopefully after today and what we did Tuesday at Penn, maybe the girls will realize that we have something good going here.”