A last-second change
La PORTE — Even with a pivotal player out, La Porte’s volleyball team didn’t miss a beat.
After Kara Cooper, one of the Slicers best hitters and starting middle blocker, rolled her left ankle in warm-ups, La Porte was a little nervous about the last-second change.
But the Slicers responded exceptionally to the adversity, as Lexi Joyner filled in nicely after Cooper missed Tuesday night’s match. That allowed La Porte to stay undefeated in the Duneland Athletic Conference by beating a solid Crown Point squad in three games, 25-15, 25-19, 25-17, in a critical DAC showdown at Slicer Gym.
“I feel like we just knew we had to step up, especially since Kara (Cooper) got hurt in warm-ups,” La Porte libero Gillian Santana said. “We could have gone the other direction and gone straight down. But we played as a team and really came together.”
The Slicers (18-1, 9-0 DAC) controlled the first game, leading by as many as 14, to win. They then overcame an early eight-point deficit in Game 2 to prevail. They also rallied from an early 7-2 hole in the third game before pulling away to outlast the Bulldogs (14-8, 7-2 DAC).
“I’m very proud of kind of how they overcame, since Kara (Cooper) got injured in warm-ups, so we had to switch our lineup at the very last minute,” La Porte coach Cassie Holmquest said. “They played amazing. I’m very proud of them.”
In the opening game, the Slicers came out on fire.
They reeled off the first nine points to build a 9-0 cushion. Freshman Aniya Kennedy was effective at the net, and Paige Conklin had three straight aces to make it 8-0 and force a second Crown Point timeout. Reilly Briggs and Joyner also got into the act offensively, with some kills in the first game. That permitted La Porte to open a 19-5 advantage. It claimed that game, 25-15, following a Bulldogs serve into the net.
Holmquest said her team understands that quick starts translate to success.
“They just wanted to play, they just want to win,” Holmquest said. “They know they have to start well in order to do that. So they just showed up to play.”
In the second game, the Slicers dug themselves a 9-1 hole, as they made numerous mistakes. But they stormed back behind stalwart team play, and by pouncing on Crown Point miscues. They cut the margin to three, 13-10, and tied it, 16-16, after Briggs’ tip. Once La Porte went ahead 17-16 on Conklin’s ace, it never trailed the rest of that game. It sealed Game 2, 25-19, after a Bulldogs carry.
The Slicers again trailed at the outset of the third game, falling behind five. They wasted no time rallying, though, as Conklin’s net play and another strong collective effort allowed La Porte to take control. It knotted that contest, 8-8. It was tied 12-12 as well, however, the Slicers pulled away. They led 18-13, and from there, the cushion fluctuated between four and eight. La Porte captured Game 3 and the match, 25-17, after the visitors kill into the net.
Briggs guided La Porte with 10 kills and eight digs, and Annalise Warnock had nine kills and five digs. Kennedy finished with seven kills, while Santana tallied 16 digs. Conklin posted 30 assists, to go along with 13 digs, four kills and four aces. Lesley Marshall added six digs, and Joyner had four kills.
“Lexi (Joyner), Annalise (Warnock) and Paige (Conklin) played really well,” Holmquest said. “They all stepped up and played really well.
“Lexi (Joyner) was doing what she needed to do in the middle. She showed up. She knew she had a job to do, and she did it, and she was successful at it.”
Plus, Santana was stout in the back row.
“I feel like when I talk, that makes me effective,” Santana said. “I have to talk to my hitters a lot, that helps them know where they have to go. Even communicating with my back row, telling them what’s open and what they have to do.”
In terms of the DAC race, the Slicers now have a two-game lead with five conference matches left.
“It was pretty nice (to win this match), because we haven’t won the DAC in a while,” Santana said. “As long as we just kept playing good against every team, expecting them to come back and play us well. We just have to keep playing hard.”
La Porte’s junior varsity fell 25-15, 25-18.