By Jon Gremmels Herald Sports Editor
The Clinton Herald
---- — CLINTON — There’s nothing like early aces to get your team momentum and put the opponent in a bad frame of mind.
Easton Valley senior Lizzie Meier delivered the early message Tuesday, and the River Hawks went on to sweep Prince of Peace in a first-round match of the Class 1A Region 7 volleyball postseason tournament. Easton Valley won 25-12, 25-11, 25-16 to advance to next Tuesday’s quarterfinals, where it will play at Marquette Catholic.
“Tonight was one of our best performances,” said Meier, who led Easton Valley with nine kills and five aces. “We really got off on a good start. We can only go up from here.”
Meier played a key role in the strong start.
“That was really important,” she said of the early lead. “We usually get off to a slow start. Once we got ahead, we picked up the momentum and took off from there.”
Meier recorded a kill on an overpass to tie the first game at 4-4, then stepped to the service line and delivered four consecutive aces to give the River Hawks a lead they never lost.
“It really picks up people when you pick up a couple of aces,” Easton Valley coach Denise Larson said. “It’s definitely a confidence builder for a team when you jump up several points. It lets everybody relax. We tend to play tight, so I think that was a great way to help the team relax.”
It also demoralizes the opponent, especially a young team that has been forced to switch players into new positions, as is the case with Prince of Peace.
“It’s hard for us with a lot of injuries the last weeks, the last one our libero (Hunter Chapman) on Sunday,” Prince of Peace coach Lisa Gogel said. “She’s our top serve-receiver and makes every pass. (Losing her) puts kids in uncomfortable spots.”
The River Hawks seized the opportunity.
“It was something every server picked up on her own,” Meier said. “We were looking for gaps and hitting them.”
Prince of Peace made a couple of attempts to stop Easton Valley’s early momentum, but kills by Meier stopped that twice. She finished the first set with five kills.
The River Hawks used a 12-3 run to push the lead to 21-10, then Prince of Peace couldn’t get the ball into its offense on successive serves by Meier as she helped close out the first win.
“The last few weeks of the season, we started to serve much better,” Larson said. “We struggled early. We’ve worked toward placing the ball to the outsides. The girls have gotten more confident, and it shows.”
It was more of the same in the second set.
A five-point run put Easton Valley ahead 6-1, it added a 5-1 run moments later, followed by a 7-1 surge that included a pair of aces from Brilee Deardorff, who finished with four, and helped put the game away.
The Irish (1-20) showed resolve in the third set, and it appeared early that they might avoid a sweep. Sydney Laufenberg served up an ace off the net that put the Irish in front 4-2, and a three-point run gave them an 8-4 lead.
A kill by Mallory Kilburg returned the serve to Easton Valley, and senior Gabriela Vasconcelos pretty much put the game away from the service line.
By the time the Irish scored again, on a kill by Erin Kuehn, the River Hawks led 16-8.
“When I get behind the line to serve, I try to keep it in and do my best,” Vasconcelos said. “I was looking for a spot. Once we got going, we kept going.”
Prince of Peace did get within 17-11 and 18-5, but Easton Valley responded with six consecutive points before a fitting end on a kill by Meier.
“We really jelled as a team,” Vasconcelos said. “It was really nice.”
It was the third win in three outings for the River Hawks (9-15).
“We played well as a team, and that’s something we struggled with,” Larson said. “We’ve changed things throughout the year, and I think they finally feel confident and comfortable with each other.”
It’s a feeling Gogel is hoping her team will develop as it continues to grow.
“We had a lot of freshmen and sophomores out there, and I saw a lot of hustle and how fast they grew into their positions,” she said. “Next year we’ll have a year of experience under our belts.”
EASTON VALLEY 25-25-25, PRINCE OF PEACE 12-11-16
Kills — Easton Valley, Lizzie Meier 9, Sabrina Bormann 4, Mallory Kilburg 4, Brook Smithson 3; Prince of Peace, Sydney Laufenberg 6, Erin Kuehn 2, Halee Vicks 2. Assists — Easton Valley, Kilburg 7, Hannah Bormann 5, Kallie Miller 3; Prince of Peace, Becca DiVarco 6, Kuehn 3. Digs — Easton Valley, Gabriela Vasconcelos 19, Meier 12, Kilburg 6, S. Bormann 6, H. Bormann 6; Prince of Peace, Kuehn 16, Krista Atkinson 11, DiVarco 11, Miranda Schnier 8, Shayenne Stiegler 7. Blocks — Easton Valley, Smithson 3, S. Bormann 1. Ace serves — Easton Valley, Meier 5, Brilee Deardorff 4, Miller 1; Prince of Peace, Laufenberg 2.