Coming off a disappointing performance in their own Marion Spikefest, the Marion High School Lady Warrior volleyball team needed to make something good happen.
Defeating Canton-Galva and losing to Remington Sept. 20 might look like just two more tallies for the win-loss record to some. But for Marion head coach Jim Versch, those matches may prove to be a turning point to the season.
“I was just totally happy,” Versch said about his team’s performance. “We came out and played some of the best volleyball we’ve played all year long.”
The Lady Warriors had to be at their best just to be competitive with Remington, who was ranked fifth among Class 3A schools coming into the match.
The Lady Warriors warmed up for Remington by handily dispatching Canton-Galva in two games, 25-21 and 25-13.
Marion edged out to an early 7-4 lead in the first game, but the Lady Eagles came back to tie it at 9-9. Marion quickly reclaimed the advantage and held Canton-Galva at bay the rest of the game. Annie Whitaker stepped up in the latter part of the match, surprising the Lady Eagles with a second-hit putback for the victory.
“Annie was finally ‘on’ like I’ve seen her in practice,” Versch said.
In the second game, it was Whitney Gordon’s turn to shine, scoring kills, serving, and blocking at the net to lead Marion to an easy win.
“It was really cool in the second game to see when Whitney took over,” Versch said. “Serves, blocks which were incredible, hits – she was the player she should be all year long.”
In the opening game of the Remington match, the Lady Broncos took an early 4-3 lead and steadily pulled away from Marion, winning 25-15.
The Lady Warriors regained the form they had in their first match, with a Gordon kill, taking Marion to a 10-5 advantage.
Remington whittled away at the deficit, tying the game at 16-16 to set up a seesaw battle the rest of the way. The Lady Broncos twice claimed the lead, but neither team could edge ahead as they found themselves tied 23-23.
Gordon broke the tie with a stuff at the net, and Kaelyn Thierolf sealed the 25-23 win with a cross-court spike.
The teams once again traded leads in the third game of the match as they moved to a 13-13 tie. With Katey Ehrlich serving, the Lady Warriors scored three consecutive points to go up 16-13.
Remington then went on a 7-1 run, due largely to difficulty the Lady Warriors had in handling serves, and the Lady Broncos held a 20-17 lead.
Marion fought back for ties at 20-20 and 21-21 before the Lady Broncos reeled off three consecutive points to lead 24-21. Marion gained one of those points back, but the game and match ended abruptly when Marion was called for crossing the center line, giving Remington the 25-22 win.
Versch was pleased to see the growth in team play that gave Marion a shot at upending a state-ranked opponent.
“We played well before, but I never felt like we were a unit,” Versch said.
The improvement in team play was a combination of initiative taken by coaches and players, Versch said.
For his part, Versch said he thought long and hard about what his team needed following their 0-3 performance in the Marion Spikefest.
“I could’ve totally freaked out and changed everything up, but that wasn’t going to solve it,” Versch said.
“I’ve got good players, these are great kids, they have great work ethics, they can compete individually – what can I do to bring them together as a team? That’s been my focus,” Versch said.
In turn, the players approached their coach asking what they could do individually to get better as a team, Versch said.
“We went through the whole list, and each one accepted their roles, each one accepted the criticism, although they might not have liked it – but they asked for it,” he continued.
The benefits, as evidenced against Canton-Galva and Remington, have been immediate.
“Practices are smoother, attitudes are better, they’re willing to improve, and it showed,” Versch said.
The Lady Warriors had the chance to put their new confidence to the test Tuesday in senior night matches against Ell-Saline, Hutch-Trinity, and Inman at Marion.
The Lady Warriors travel Saturday to Belle Plaine for a tournament that begins at 9:30 a.m.
Tuesday they will play in a quadrangular meet at Sedgwick.
TUESDAY MARION QUAD RESULTS
Marion defeated Inman 2-0 (25-17, 25-14); Marion lost to Hutch-Trinity 1-2 (18-25, 25-16, 22-25); Marion lost to Ell-Saline 0-2 (23-25, 23-25.