(Cover photo credit: Holly Koval)
With only three seniors, Mercy’s second-ranked volleyball team will need to talk and communicate to make this season a successful one.
The Jaguars passed the communication test winning 25-20, 25-19, 26-24 over Indiana power Providence Wednesday night.
“I think we executed a little bit better,” Thomerson said. “We served aggressive, we were able to keep them out of the system a lot. When we were out of system, we were able to protect the ball pretty well. We were able to spread out our defense. Providence is a great program but I think we were able to get on their mental side a bit. Terri Purichia is one of the best coaches in the country. She has a young team right now.”
Both volleyball programs are powerhouses. Mercy (2-0) has won 16 straight regional titles, won the state and national title in 2014 while Providence (1-1) has won two Class 2A titles and last year won the Class 3A state title in Indiana.
Kelly O’Neil, a senior libero, led the defense with 12 digs.
“I feel like I have a lot different of a role even though I was the starting libero last year,” O’Neil said. “Being a senior libero, you have to take more of a leadership role. I have to help the team settle down if we get into a little bit of trouble and help them out.”
The senior captain grabbed 11 of those digs in the second and third games.
“This team is still young and while there are no loud, aggressive, vocal leaders, everybody just does it through their play,” Thomerson said. “Kelly is a phenominal example of that. She’s not only going to be able to tell you where to go with the ball but she is going to be able to talk and has the wisdom of knowing what to do. She’s one of those people that is a leader on the floor and does it with her play.”
Offensively, first-year starter and senior Maddie Lentz has taken over the reigns as the main setter and dished out all 33 of the Jaguars assists.
“It has been great to get to play but I feel no pressure,” Lentz said. “Morgan (Elmore) definitely left a legacy at Mercy. But I’m getting the hang of it fast and with the great team we have this year it’s making the job a lot easier.”
Lentz had sat behind Elmore, who is now a freshman at Lipscomb, the past three seasons .
“Maddie is a great setter,” Thomerson said. “When you’re playing behind Morgan Elmore, it’s a tough thing to have to do. But you have to consider that Maddie didn’t become a setter until her sophomore year of high school. With me, being a first-year head coach (last year), it wasn’t that Maddie couldn’t have jumped in and done the job, it’s just a matter that I gave that respect to Morgan with her being a senior.”
Sophomore Lauren Myrick led the Jaguars with eight kills. Jayme Scott added seven kills while Isabel Salameh and Neci Harris each added six.
It didn’t take long for the Jaguars to seize control building a 13-6 lead in the first game. The Pioneers cut the lead to 15-13 at one point but Mercy pushed it back out to 24-17 and eventually won the first game.
“It took a little bit of time to adjust at first,” Myrick said of having a new setter this year. “But now I definitely think we are starting to get used to each other style of play.”
Providence came out with more passion in the second set and forced five ties and Mercy didn’t take its first lead until it was 10-9. The Jaguars broke a 13-13 tie on a Olivia Stanfield kill and never trailed again.
The third game was the most competitive featuring nine ties and Mercy’s biggest lead was only four points.
With the score tied at 24, Providence made an error and then Emma Schurfranz ended the match with a kill.
“We talked a lot more in the first and second sets,” O’Neil said. “That’s why we were down for a bit in the third set. We took a deep breath and got everything together to get the win.”
The Jaguars first game was a 3-0 victory over Christian Academy and the young squad is hoping to ride off of that momentum as their schedule takes a brutal turn with a contest against third-ranked Sacred Heart Sunday.
“My favorite part about this group is that we mesh so well together,” Thomerson said. “When we had our first few practices everybody would walk in not knowing what the mindset we were going for this year. We kind of adopted the mindset of what we wanted to do now we wanted to win. The competitiveness by the third or fourth day was off the chains. They’re meshing well early which is good.”