Brock Netter, Staff Writer
KINNIKINNICK — Don’t look now, but Zane Trace may have just found its rhythm … and not a moment too soon.
After handing Adena its first loss last week, the Pioneers (14-5) kept the train rolling by handing Miami Trace (16-1) its first loss of the season in four sets (25-18, 23-25, 25-19, 25-19) on Monday.
“We stayed moving and talking throughout the whole game, we’d be scrambling all over the floor if we stopped for even a second,” Zane Trace’s Alli Bennett said. “We did a good job of recovering and staying on our toes anytime the ball was hit to us.”
Zane Trace coach Cyndi Davis said she challenged her team against Adena to win back-to-back sets. Monday, it was about winning back-to-back games.
“We’ve struggled at times this season, playing against good teams and winning back-to-back sets in those games,” Davis said. “So I challenged them to win back-to-back sets, and they did. Now it was challenging them to win back-to-back games, and we did. They were up for the challenge. There’s times we’re still a little off and we get passive. But I mostly liked what I saw from the girls.”
Miami Trace came out aggressive, but it backfired and turned into missing spots on the court. The free points continued to add up for Zane Trace as it maintained a 14-9 lead in the first set.
The Panthers cut the lead to one point on two different occasions, but a kill from Gracey McCullough and, later, a block from Emily Allen, kept the Pioneers ahead.
Bennett came up with a block and a kill before stepping back to the serving line where she finished off the Panthers with back-to-back aces for the first set win.
“Normally I would serve to either side of the floor, or at least I would try,” Bennett said, with a laugh. “I just kept mixing up short serves with aggressive serves to get the ball to shank and go out for the point.”
Bennett continued to lead the charge in the second, and alongside kills from McCullough and Hannah Hale, the Pioneers jumped out to a 17-8 lead.
However, Miami Trace began to battle back. It started with a 6-0 run, including an ace from Gracey Ferguson that cut the lead to 17-14.
Later, Olivia Fliehman powered down a pair of kills before serving back-to-back aces that tied the game, 22-22. Ferguson got a block to tie it at 23 before a kill from Saylor Moore and a block from Skylar Parsons sealed the win for the Panthers.
“We definitely let up on that second set, but Miami Trace did a good job of battling back and staying aggressive,” Davis said. “We stopped being aggressive. Our back row was slacking and our serve receive went down a lot. It completely changed everything and our setters weren’t able to make good passes. We went into scramble mode and we couldn’t recover.”
The same start happening again in the third as the Pioneers once again found themselves ahead 17-8. Yet, Miami Trace battled back behind Fliehman and cut the lead to 20-16. But there would be no repeat performance as Bennett and Emily Allen powered ZT down the stretch for the win.
The Panthers came out hungry in the fourth, but it didn’t last long. After a Lexi Scott kill tied the game 11-11, the Pioneers went on an 8-4 spree behind Scott, McCullough and Hale that created enough separation to close out for the win.
“We switched a couple things up in the back row for serve receive and I think that allowed us to get out of our own heads,” Davis said. “From that moment, it was just one point at a time and we continued competing. Miami Trace was doubling Alli and sometimes even tripling Hannah at the net, but they kept swinging. This was a good solid win for us.”
Bennett finished with 19 kills, 17 assists, 14 digs and four aces to lead the Pioneers, followed by 10 kills and five blocks from Hannah Hale. Scott added nine kills, five digs and four assists, and McCullough had nine kills.
Zane Trace is back in action on Tuesday at Piketon, while Miami Trace closes its season on Saturday at Fairfield.