Cover photo credit: Holly Koval
Paul Najjar, Louisville Catholic Sports Network
Once again the state’s No. 1-ranked Assumption Rockets proved their mettle in a four-set win over the state’s No. 3-ranked Mercy Jaguars 25-16, 21-25, 25-19, 25-22 in an intense, competitive battle Tuesday night at Assumption.
With errors vacillating from game to game from one side of the court to the other, the Rockets held on to win a fourth set that hung perilously in the balance. The three-pronged attack of senior opposite Anna Palmer with her match-high 15 kills and three aces, senior Brooke Moore (13 kills, 3 aces and a block) and junior middle blocker Kayla Kaiser (10 kills, a block and an ace) that pulled Assumption through.
Add senior outside hitter Jacqueline Askin’s nine kills and that’s a combined 47 kills from the four primary hitters for the Rockets. When you have production like that from your top hitters, the wins usually follow.
“That was a really good match and that’s the way it should be,” Assumption head coach Ron Kordes said of the elevated play between the teams. “I thought the errors, both ways, determined the first three sets. I told the kids that we needed to open up the fourth set better than we’d opened the prior sets. And we did. I’m really glad we did because we needed that cushion at the end.”
That match-ending fourth set had Assumption’s big four hitters’ imprints all over it. A huge kill from Palmer to start, then one from Askin followed by one from Kaiser and then Moore rounded out the surge. Another kill from Kaiser and a few errors from Mercy and Assumption led 8-2.
“We’ve been saying all season that we have to focus on us,” Mercy head coach Matt Thomerson said. “And though we made some errors, our team knows that they have to figure things out if they get down and find a way to win. We found some spots and opportunities were there (for the comeback), we just didn’t finish our execution on a couple of critical points.”
For a while it looked as though the opposite hitters, Palmer and Mercy sophomore Emma Schurfranz, were going to dominate the game. When they were on the court, they did just that. Schurfranz finished with nine kills but had six blocks for points that forced Assumption to set away from the strong side and even the middle.
Though the loss dropped Mercy to 7-4 on the season, Thomerson likes what he’s seeing in the maturation of a trio of sophomore swingers in Schurfranz, Lauren Myrick and Jayme Scott. Scott led the Jags with 14 kills and a block while Myrick added seven kills and a block. Those numbers will improve with experience.
“We learned a lot tonight and I’m glad we played as well as we did in spite of some of the self-inflicted problems we created,” Thomerson said. “We’re still learning how to fight. If you give great team five or six points, it’s tough to come back. But, we showed tonight that we’re not going to stop fighting and we’re going to try to find a way to win. We still haven’t seen our best (effort) yet.”
Scott has become the go-to hitter for the Jags and she’s getting to the point where big production is expected.
“Maddie (setter Maddie Lentz) kept mixing up the sets and that helped me hit the holes in their defense,” Scott said. “Her sets have been great. Even though we lost, that was a fun match to play.”
Mercy made things difficult for the Rockets all night. But, whenever Assumption (10-1) needed a point Palmer or Moore or Kaiser got it for them.
Palmer in particular was swinging with authority from the weak side and at one point served up back-to-back aces with her jump serve.
“I was just making sure I was doing the things that I’ve always been told to work on and that’s having loose arms and driving in hard with a fast last two steps, getting up and hitting the ball,” Palmer explained. “It’s feeling a lot more natural on the right side now. This year it’s taken a little time and experience to work in our setters.”
Digging up all of those big swings were two very good defenses led by liberos Alexis Hamilton (Assumption), a Louisville commit, and Kelly O’Neill (Mercy) an Arizona commit. The duo dazzled the crowd with digs all around the court and seemingly would show up in the right spot at the right time on nearly every possession.
“It was really fun to have all the energy from our students who came to support us and we could feel that on the court,” O’Neill said. “It was cool to watch her (Hamilton) make those plays because she’s a great player. I think we may have had a little thing going where she’d get one and I’d have to get one and back and forth. That type of competition is why I love the game.
“We’re taking baby steps, but there’s definite improvement in this team. The younger players are pushing and working so hard to help the team. We’ll get there.”
Both teams will be vying for the prestigious Louisville Volleyball Invitational Tournament title this Friday and Saturday. Mercy won back-to-back titles in 2013 and 2014 and Assumption last won the tournament in 2012.