Jonathan Alder’s Corinne Parker (15) blasts the ball over the net Saturday afternoon at Licking Heights High School. The Lady Pioneers topped Highland in four sets to win a Division II district championship.
(Journal-Tribune photo by Sam Dillon)
A little more than a year ago, the Jonathan Alder High School volleyball team was going through a coaching transition.
A new coach, Matt Craycraft, was on board during the 2017 preseason as the Lady Pioneers were just a couple of years removed from a Division II state runner-up finish under coach Taryn Haas.
The program was thrown into some turmoil, though, when Craycraft abruptly resigned for personal reasons as the season was about to begin.
Kim Hayes, who was serving as a volunteer assistant coach at the time, was named the head coach at the last minute.
The 2017 campaign went on to be successful with a Central Buckeye Conference Kenton Trail Division championship and a 19-4 record.
Fast forward the calendar a year later and the Lady Pioneers (who defended their CBC crown) are once again at the top of the Division II heap in the Central District.
Alder (22-4) captured a district championship on Saturday by beating No. 1 seed Highland 3-1 at Licking Heights High School.
The Lady Pioneers went into the title match as the district’s third seed.
They didn’t, however, live up to their billing during the first set.
“Our passing and defense were off that first game,” said Hayes of JA’s 13-25 loss to the Fighting Scots.
“When our passing is off, everything is… our setting and our hitting. We also didn’t get into our defensive system.”
Maybe it was a case of opening-game jitters, but for whatever reason, Jonathan Alder had trouble against Highland (which went into the match with a record of 24-1) for much of the initial set.
An errant JA pass gave the Scots an early 6-2 lead, but the Lady Pioneers pulled to within 9-8 when the Scots recorded a hitting error.
A kill by Kendall Stover gave Highland an 11-9 lead, but Alder later narrowed its deficit to 17-13 on a kill from Ava Francis.
That was all JA could muster as the Scots took over the rest of the set.
A kill from 6-3 Raina Terry pushed Highland out to a 19-13 margin.
A number of passing and hitting miscues by Alder led to the Scots’ 1-0 lead in sets.
“We gave them a lot of points that game,” said Hayes.
The Lady Pioneers began to sort things out once the second game got underway.
Francis came up with two big kills as JA jumped out to an 8-5 lead.
Alder overcame a few double hit calls on sets to maintain the upper hand.
Francis tipped the ball over the net for a 14-9 margin and Emma Shepherd’s ace serve put JA up 16-9.
Kourtney Reynolds followed with a block and kill as the Lady Pioneers’ lead grew to 18-12.
Highland was guilty of several hitting and blocking errors down the stretch run of the set.
Reynolds and Corinne Parker later teamed for a block that put JA up by a 23-17 count.
The Scots sent a dig sailing into the bleachers to put Alder at set point, 24-17.
Parker then evened the match at one set apiece with a lefty smash over the net.
“We started to tighten up our passing during the second game,” said Hayes. “When that happened, we began to get the ball to our setters better and they, in turn, were able to get the ball to our hitters.”
The third game was the most tightly-contested of the day.
JA jumped out to a 9-5 lead on a block by Reynolds.
The Scots, however, weren’t the top-seeded team in the district for no reason.
They began to battle back, tying the set at points 11 and 13.
Reynolds and Parker, Alder’s 6-2 hitters, combined for a block that gave JA a 15-13 margin.
It was a lead that Jonathan Alder did not surrender for the remainder of the game.
A kill from Francis hugged the back line of Highland’s defense, giving the Lady Pioneers a 21-18 edge.
Parker made a great play to pull a dig off the floor before the Scots sent a block out-of-bounds.
A double-hit call on Highland put JA only one marker away from taking the set.
The Scots scored twice to narrow their deficit to 24-20.
Another kill from Francis, though, led to a 25-20 victory and a 2-1 lead for the Lady Pioneers.
Highland got out to a quick start during the fourth game and took a 6-1 lead on a JA hitting error.
Alder, though, fought its way back, eventually tying the set at 7-all on a kill from Kayleigh Hall.
Jonathan Alder was in the midst of a 10-1 run until a kill by Makenna Belcher pulled the Scots to within 13-9.
Highland later climbed to within 20-18 as JA committed a few hitting and setting mistakes.
A block by Reynolds led to Alder’s 22-19 edge, but the pesky Scots weren’t going to quietly go away.
JA was whistled for reaching over the net, which pulled Highland to within 23-22.
The Lady Pioneers got to set point at 24-22 on a Scots’ hitting miscue.
Highland, though, stayed alive when a dig by the Pioneers failed to remain in play.
The Scots had the serve with JA up by a 24-23 count.
Parker, though, came up with a kill that ended the match and sent the Lady Pioneers into this week’s regional tournament.
Hayes acknowledged that after the rough start, the Pioneers began to play like they’re capable of doing.
“After the first game, we made Highland earn all of their points,” she said. “They made some mistakes, though, after our hitters began to power the ball.”
The victory puts Alder into Thursday’s regional semifinal match at Heath High School.
The opponent for the 7:30 p.m. match will be Columbus Bishop Hartley.
The fifth-seeded Hawks beat No. 2-seeded Big Walnut 3-2 during another district final on Saturday.
Hayes said the Lady Pioneers don’t have to do anything differently as they prepare for the regional.
“We just want to keep improving on everything we do,” she said.
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