VB girls post win over North Marion

Last Thursday, before the Homecoming bonfire, Sweet Home started an early blaze of their own against North Marion, who couldn’t douse the flames with their limited attack.

The Huskies had trouble getting the fire lit, but managed to stay a few points ahead for most of the game with an improved serve receive and passing effort. At 21-16, they allowed North Marion to stay alive by misplaying four straight balls. After a timeout, North served long and Chelsea Gagner, in her first game as a part of the standard serving rotation, delivered an ace and another tough serve to end it at 25-20. From there, it was all Sweet Home, as they deposed North quickly on 25-8, 25-10 scores to even their league record at 1-1.

In the second game, the Huskies used an effective service game to put North on their heels. Besides Lisa Brocard, who had 14 kills on the night, Nicki Emmert began to set Gagner and Elissa McCartin. In game three, it was more of the same as the Husky offense ignited with three kills by Brocard and two more by Dani Thireault as they jumped to an early 6-0 lead and never looked back.

In the Cascade game earlier in the week, Brocard thought the team wasn’t aggressive enough, just waiting to see what they did instead of taking charge and controlling the flow of the game.

Against North Marion, after a tough practice focused on digging big hits, Brocard felt the team improved in that regard and communicated better on the floor.

“In the first game, it was like pulling teeth to get fired up,” said Brocard about the North Marion match. “But we were ready to go in the last two games. We were better on covering blocks. We didn’t let many balls go down.”

Coach Heide Nichol said the team set a goal of 95 percent serving. They came within whiskers of reaching that goal at 93 percent, and that only because of an indecisive line call on one serve declared out and a missed jump serve used by Brocard after the game was well in hand.

But Nichol liked the more well-rounded team effort in the match.

“I saw people on the net and getting after it that aren’t my big hitters,” said Nichol.

One of those was Gagner, who was 15-17 hitting with 8 kills. She also nailed two blocks and was perfect at serving, as was McCartin, also in her first game as a server, and Alisha Basham.

“We were running more plays that we’ve done in practice,” said Gagner, “so when we face better teams, we’ll know what to do and how to do it.”

Emmert, from her setting position, is the key to a smoother offense and is feeling more relaxed with her team as they try to master that offense.

“I get kind of confused sometimes,” said Emmert. “I’m learning where to set each player.”

Two days earlier, Cascade came to Sweet Home a little more prepared for their volleyball match than they did during the jamboree. For the opening Capital Conference match against the Huskies, they brought their best hitter, Chelsea Lally, and their setter, who were both no-shows at the jamboree.

That meant the Cougars brought some offense to their game as they upset Sweet Home in a tough five game match, 22-25, 25-23, 25-16, 23-25, 15-12. In the final game, the Huskies’ service game disintegrated with 5 missed serves while Cascade served perfectly.

In the first game, Sweet Home put together a strong offense, uniting for 10 kills. Lisa Brocard had 4 of those kills and Ashley Horn had 3. That combined with four aces early kept the Huskies about five points ahead of their counterparts, eventually stretching the lead to 22-14.

But then, as has been their problem throughout the year, one mistake turned into others as Sweet Home played timid, letting the Cougars back into the game at 22-19. Nichol had to call two timeouts before the Huskies finished it off when Hannah Swanson pounded a kill from the back row.

In games two and three, both teams played inconsistently and gave away many points. With the teams going back and forth to 22-22 in the second game, Cascade scored on a couple of tough serves before serving long. At game point, Emily Kindle blocked Brocard at the net to earn the victory. In game three, Sweet Home continued to play inconsistently in the back row and tentatively at the net while the Cougars made adjustments in how they defended against the serve, sending four players deep, and in their blocking patterns to try to minimize Brocard in the Husky offense.

The placement of players is always an unknown at the beginning of each game. How each team matches up their best players in relation to the other team’s best players is always in question.

“Some of the reasons the games turn out the way they do is not always something you can control as a coach,” said Nichol. “In the second and third games, they blocked Lisa more. Part of it is where we are putting the set and part of it is their adjustments.”

But Nichol doesn’t want the team to be in a place where they have to totally rely on one player for offense. Other players need to contribute, and quickly.

“If she (Brocard) is all we have, then we will be shut down,” said Nichol. “Everybody can add something. It’s just consistency and giving them a lot of touches in practice.”

The Cougars almost shut down Sweet Home in the fourth game. With the score at 11-11, the Huskies nearly self-destructed again with setting and passing problems. Cascade led 20-13 before Sweet Home rallied, thanks in part to Cougar misplays at the net but also to two kills by Ashley Horn. Down 21-19, Nicki Emmert began to find a rhythm with Brocard, who pounded out four straight kills to give the Huskies a lead. Fittingly, Brocard scored the final point with a masterful tip just off the net.

Unfortunately, the momentum did not carry over into the final game. The Huskies missed two of their first three serves and both of their last two. Cascade did nothing to win the game. Of all their points, all were given to them by Husky missed serves, missed hits or overpasses except for one jump service ace by Lally.

This week, the Huskies must contend with Sisters and Molalla on the road. Sisters is 2-0 in league, including 3-0 wins over Molalla and North Marion.