By Mike Deak
LAGRANGE – Thursday’s opening night of the Lakeland Volleyball Sectional saw an upset in the first contest, and hopes of a bigger one in the second contest slowly faded as West Noble and NorthWood emerged as winners over Tippecanoe Valley and Lakeland.
West Noble 3, Tippecanoe Valley 0
It was a total flip of the script from the first matchup between the two teams in the regular season. In Akron in August, Valley had its way in a tidy 3-0 win over the Chargers. That wasn’t the case at all in LaGrange, where West Noble outran Valley to a first set win, 25-23, deflating the Vikings for a 25-18, 25-20 capper.
In what may be best described as a lackluster performance from Valley (20-12), the Vikings and Chargers were tied at 17 in game one, but West Noble used a kill and an ace from Maysie Clouse, then a hammer from Molly Jones to punctuate the opening stanza.
West Noble ran out to a 17-8 lead in game two, Valley mired in a series of unforced errors and miscommunications that festered into the third game as well. Even with the troubles, Valley would find itself down just two at 16-14 in the third, but West Noble (7-22) scored eight of the next 13 points to put the finishing touches on the upset and punching the first ticket to the semi-finals on Saturday and a matchup with Jimtown (13-14) in the 11 a.m. opener.
Stats and quotes for Valley were not made available following the match.
NorthWood 3, Lakeland 0
For what transpired in the upset from game one, a bigger one was brewing in game two.
Lakeland and NorthWood were tied at 17 in the first game, but NorthWood seemingly flipped the switch that has propelled it to the No. 4 ranking in Class 3-A and the Panthers would win game one 25-20.
Lakeland (9-19) wasn’t dead in the water in game two, but the tide had turned in NorthWood’s direction. Claire Payne and Alana Lehman each had blocks, Sophia Barber scored on multiple rips from the outside, and setter Annika Bennett was putting her team in position in historic fashion.
With just a year and a half of varsity action under her belt, Bennett achieved a personal milestone by notching her 1,000th career assist Thursday night.
“When you are a setter, you love to have some big hitters to put the ball away. But you have to be able to find them in the right situations and she can certainly do that,” said NorthWood head coach Hilary Laidig of Bennett, who had 34 assists against the Lakers. “Just an awesome accomplishment for her to do this in such a limited amount of time.”
Game three was all Wood, as the Panthers scored 17 of the first 20 points to put the nail in the Laker coffin.
Barber led the offense with 12 kills and three aces, and Payne had 10 kills and three blocks. Lehman finished with eight kills and the trio of Bennett, Hannah Chupp and Macy Lengacher combined for 33 digs.
“I think they definitely looked like freshmen and sophomores there in the first game,” Laidig said. “Sectional games are a big deal and those nerves, I kind of expected to see them all year and I finally saw some tonight. I thought Lakeland, though, played really well.”
NorthWood (29-2) advances to the second semi-final, where it will renew all the pleasantries with Wawasee (21-10), the third time this season the two have met. NorthWood owns wins in both matchups, a 2-0 win at the Bremen tourney and a 3-0 result last week at Wawasee.