(Cover photo: Assumption opposite hitter Anna Palmer recorded 7 kills and 4 blocks for the Rockets. Credit:Paul Najja)
The No. 1-ranked Assumption Rockets fought through a pesky No.8-ranked Presentation Toppers team to earn a 25-21, 25-15, 25-7 win Wednesday night.
The match featured the 2015 All “A” state champion Toppers (1-1) at the 2015 state champion Rockets. The teams combined to win 65 games last season and both teams showed that they’re primed for a repeat in their respective classes.
“Give all the credit to Presentation because they really came out loose, played fast and fired away at our defense,” Assumption head coach Ron Kordes said. “They play so hard against us every year and I have so much respect for that program. We’re taller and deeper as a team on paper, but they’ve got such big hearts and a lot of pride on that team. They came after us tonight.”
The Rockets survived a big scare in the first set as the teams traded the lead 11 times and recorded 10 tie scores. The Toppers kept up the pressure and forced 11 Assumption scoring errors, a testament to their scrappy play.
“I was excited about our first set,” Presentation head coach Tom Sawyer said. “We were the sharper team there early on and that was really important for us. Our girls are always going to be excited to play in this big gym against Assumption. I think we eventually just wore us down with their height and quickness. We weren’t getting hands on the ball on our blocks and our defense is at the mercy of our block.”
Presentation took its last lead of the first set at 21-20 on Assumption’s 11th scoring error. But back-to-back-to-back stuff blocks from the Rockets formidable front line of senior Brooke Moore, freshman Emma Monks and senior Anna Palmer put Assumption (3-0) back in front at 23-21. A Moore ace serve and a Pres error ended the set.
“They were playing really, really well and that kind of threw us off guard a bit,” Palmer said. “We haven’t faced that much intensity so far this year so that was a good test for us. Our blocking and passing improved, especially in the second set.”
Palmer and junior middle blocker Kayla Kaiser paced the Rockets’ attack. Kaiser recorded 12 kills, two stuff blocks and two service aces while Palmer chipped in with seven kills and four blocks. Moore ended up with six kills, two blocks and two aces.
Those three hitters, along with seniors Jacqueline Askin and Ana Crockett, will be asked to bring along a bevy of tall, talented underclassmen for the defending state champions.
“Our seniors didn’t look relaxed out there,” Kordes said. “We told them in the locker room that Presentation was going to come out firing and we had to respond to that. We’ve got some players where this type of atmosphere and environment is new to them and Pres took advantage of that early on.
“We’ve got to get the seniors to the point where they settle down a little bit and that should bring up the play of all the new players out there. We were watching and waiting for other people to do their job rather than playing our game. But we needed this competitive game and we’ll get better from it.”
With Kaiser and Palmer controlling the middle of the floor, libero Alexis Hamilton directed a strong Assumption defense that looked a little confused at times.
“We definitely made mistakes, especially early in the match,” Hamilton, a Louisville commit, said. “We weren’t communicating early in the match and maybe a little nervous and rattled. We were jumpy and weren’t talking enough. I told everyone to chill out, take a deep breath and calm down. We relaxed, came together and overcame some adversity.”
Once the Rockets settled into the match, their size, speed and skill wore down the smaller Toppers team. Assumption finished off the second set with a 14-6 run and breezed through the third set as Presentation’s energy tailed off considerably.
“This is one of those games that our girls always get excited about,” Sawyer said. “They’re a tight-knit group, senior-laden and have a lot of experience. They know how good they can be but we have to throw out those 31 wins from last year. We have to put that season behind us and keep working at making this team the best it can be.”
The Toppers have eight days off before hosting Manual next Thursday. Assumption will host defending national champion Cathedral (Ind.) on Saturday night at 7:00 p.m. Both teams are nationally ranked according to prepvolleyball.com’s preseason rankings.