John Bruce, Contributor
FRENCHTOWN — To pull off an upset, there’s a good chance you’ll need to ride a hot hand.
Luckily for Unioto on Thursday, it had two to choose from.
Westfall came stampeding into Frenchtown as the undefeated league leaders in the Scioto Valley Conference. Winners of fourteen of their fifteen contests overall, the Mustangs appeared to be heavy favorites to continue their push towards a coveted Gold Ball.
However, the Shermans would have none of that, especially on their home floor.
Behind red-hot hitting from junior Kacey Pierce and the explosiveness of Amber Cottrill, Unioto electrified its home fans with a scintillating straight-set victory over the Mustangs by 25-23, 25-22, and 25-21 finals … effectively ending Westfall’s hopes for a Gold Ball.
“It feels great,” Pierce said. “We knew that with having a few losses under our belts, that the best thing that we could do this season was to keep Westfall from getting the Gold Ball. We knew we could do it if we all stayed excited and stayed up the whole game. That is when we play our best game.”
Westfall (14-2, 9-1 SVC) was led by Kristin Phillips and Josie Williams, both full rotation players who tend to cause a lot of trouble for opposing defenses. The duo combined for 28 kills and 28 digs on the night, but the swarming back row defense of the Shermans, along with Pierce, Cree Stulley, Jerzi Paul, and Brynlee Viney at the net, kept the pair from taking over the match like they have done so many times before.
Cottrill, Hallie Pinkerton, Alexis Miller, and Emily Coleman must have appeared to be six players at times covering the back end of the defense for the Shermans as the senior quadrient combined for over 40 digs, alongside several acrobatic plays.
Setters Sophie Coleman and Ava Eldridge each took their turns in the back, combining for 24 digs of their own, while also dishing out 41 assists.
Throughout the match, it was very clear that Unioto was going to be crafty in their attack.
Instead of attacking Westfall’s outstanding length at the net, the Shermans were effective by attacking with finesse. Time after time. Pinkerton scored on several occasions by simply placing the ball opposite of the Mustangs’ blockers, while Cottrill and Pierce attacked with both finesse and power.
One standout series for Cottrill included a beautiful touch pass that neatly fell to the floor for a point, just before going high above the net to send a rocket through the Mustangs’ defense.
SCIOTO VALLEY CONFERENCE VOLLEYBALL STANDINGS
As with any match featuring two high-level squads, it was nip and tuck throughout all three sets. The teams traded the lead throughout the first, but Cottrill finished the sequence with the aforementioned brilliant series of plays to give the Tanks a 25-23 win.
The second set would be similar, with Unioto leading throughout, but with Westfall tying the score on five different occasions. On each of those occasions, Phillips powered home a kill, but the Shermans immediately stymied any momentum the Mustangs may have gained.
Most of that set belonged to Pierce, with the junior making several big plays to help the Shermans go ahead 2-0 in the match. Paul finished off the set with a kill that just caught the edge of the baseline and gave the Shermans a 25-22 win.
If five ties weren’t enough in the second, the two produced 11 in the third.
Both teams attacked relentlessly, but neither could truly get any traction on a lead until Cottrill stepped up with back-to-back kills to give the Shermans some breathing room.
After Pierce finished off back-to-back kills of her own, it was Cottrill’s turn to finish off the win for the Shermans. The senior took a big-time swing off a set from Eldridge and, while it went off a block by the Mustangs, it fell harmlessly to the floor several feet out of bounds as the Shermans seized an upset victory.
Pierce finished the match with 15 kills while Cottrill finished with 13 kills and 13 digs. Pinkerton added 14 digs, Emily Coleman had 11 of her own, and Eldridge ended the night with 25 assists and eight digs.
For Westfall, Phillips had 13 kills and 14 digs, Williams logged 15 kills, 14 assists and 14 digs, and Claire Latham chipped in with 18 assists and eight digs.
Unioto (11-6, 6-4 SVC) will be back in action on Tuesday it travels to Frankfort to battle Adena. Meanwhile, Westfall travels to Piketon the same night.
NOTES: A Gold Ball is awarded to the SVC team that wins the conference with an undefeated record in league play … The win moves Unioto to 7-2 at home this season … Westfall entered the match ranked 12th in this week’s OHSVCA Poll.