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Battle of unbeatens

August 31, 2018

La PORTE — Twice last season, La Porte’s volleyball team suffered bitter, regular-season defeats to rival Michigan City.

On Thursday night, the Slicers exacted some revenge. And in convincing fashion in a matchup of unbeatens.

Behind a total team effort, including dominant blocking, La Porte seized command at the outset and never looked back, sweeping the short-handed Wolves in three games, 25-17, 25-11, 25-16, in a boisterous, packed Slicer Gym.

When asked if her team had this match circled on the schedule, La Porte libero Gillian Santana didn’t hesitate.

“We’ve been waiting for this all year,” Santana said. “This one and Crown Point, these are our big matches.”

The Slicers (10-0, 4-0 Duneland Athletic Conference) also already beat the Bulldogs last Thursday night in three games.

“We’re a really good team this year,” Santana said. “We have really good chemistry on and off the court, which helps a lot.”

One of the best hitters for City (11-1, 3-1 DAC), 6-foot-4 Hannah Noveroske, missed this match with a knee injury. Noveroske is scheduled to have a doctor’s appointment next Friday. She could possibly get cleared to play then.

She would have made a difference. Still, La Porte was firing on all cylinders.

“Everything they’re dreaming of is possible and capable for that group,” City coach TR Harlan said of La Porte. “They’re that good. There was very little, if anything, we could do about what was going on.”

At the same time, Harlan added his team played tentatively.

“We didn’t have many errors, because we didn’t go for it,” Harlan said. “We played cautiously. We played to not make mistakes.”

The Slicers started fast, jumping ahead 6-0 in the opening game to force a City timeout. La Porte then pushed its advantage to 8-0 and to as many as 13 points, 16-3, after Paige Conklin’s tip. Reilly Briggs was stout at the net, and the Slicers pounced on the Wolves’ mistakes.

But the visitors clawed back, cutting the margin to four points a few times, including 18-14. La Porte fended off City 25-17 in Game 1, though, after Lexi Joyner’s kill.

The first game set the tone for the night.

“Overall, I’m very happy,” Slicers coach Cassie Holmquest said. “We played really well. Our blocking was on point. Everyone contributed. I didn’t really see any weak points tonight.”

In Game 2, freshman Aniya Kennedy, senior Kara Cooper and the senior Briggs paced the Slicers offensively. That helped them erase an early 3-2 deficit to build an 8-4 cushion. La Porte wasn’t challenged the rest of that contest, winning it 25-11 following Joyner’s kill.

Then, in the third game, the Slicers quickly took control, reeling off a run to go ahead 8-1. The Wolves never got closer than five the rest of the way, as Briggs and Kennedy again shined at the net with their hitting and blocking. La Porte claimed that game and the match, 25-16, after City’s mis-hit.

Briggs guided the Slicers with 10 kills, 10 digs and two aces.

“She played really well,” Holmquest said. “She’s a senior, so the expectation is high for her. And she came to play.”

Kennedy had nine kills and four solo blocks, while Santana earned 21 digs. Cooper tallied nine solo blocks and four kills, and Paige Conklin had 13 digs and 29 assists. Annalise Warnock added nine digs.

“It feels good,” Kennedy said of the feeling she gets after a huge kill. “Because the crowd goes crazy after you kill one. And it’s great to help the team.

“Our quick start was really important for us. So even if they had a run on us, we could control ourselves and re-set.”

Reece Shirley led City with eight digs, six kills and four assists, and Kasey Halfacre had 10 digs. Emily Kinney added seven digs and three kills, and Alexa Sparks finished with six digs and three assists. Micah Ruhe had nine digs, and Mackenzie Yock recorded seven assists.

“Alexa Sparks does everything she can at 5-6,” Harlan said. “When she’s matched up with Aniya, what do you want her to do? She touched four balls. Reece and Emily played fine. They tried to do too much tonight, because they weren’t getting the support we usually get.”

La Porte’s junior varsity won 25-8, 25-14.

The two teams will meet again on September 25 at the Wolves Den.

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