By Josh Brown
CASSTOWN — For Troy, it was all about executing a gameplan.
For Miami East, it became about attitude and momentum.
After the Trojan volleyball team battled back to tie the match at 1-1 after two tightly-contested games, the defending Division III state champion Vikings responded with a dominant effort in the third and fourth games, winning 25-21, 23-25, 25-8, 25-13 Saturday at Miami East High School in a rivalry that has proved to be a good barometer of where the teams will end up at the end of the season.
Miami East (3-1) improved to 5-2 against Troy (2-1) since 2011, with the Trojans winning in 2014 and 2015 — both seasons in which Troy advanced to the Division I district final. Last season, the Vikings — who have made four D-III state tournament appearances and won three state titles during that run, all in years that began with wins over Troy — swept the Trojans, winning two close games to start and pulling away for an easy win in the third.
For the Vikings, playing that kind of schedule early in the season before conference play begins is invaluable.
“It shows us — especially against the Coldwaters, Versailles and Troys — the level that we need to be at when it gets to October and hopefully into November,” Miami East coach Dan Peterson said. “It’s not by accident that we schedule this tough and play these tough teams early on. We get to gauge where we need to be, then we come into practice and know the level we need to reach to be successful.”
Troy’s gameplan going in was to limit Miami East’s Jonni Parker as best as possible — a tall task for any team. Still, the Trojans were able to keep pace for most of the first game and then jumped out to a big lead in the second and held on to win that game.
“In the first and second sets, we executed the gameplan a little bit better,” Troy coach Michelle Owen said. “We were serving a little tougher those first two games, and that helped us. Our goal was to try to get them out of system and keep them from doing what they wanted to do.
“We felt, as a staff, that realistically we had to try to keep Jonni under 10 points (each set), and if we could do that, we had a shot. Set One, we didn’t do that but were still competitive. And in Set Two, we did a little better.”
Troy held an 8-7 lead in the first game after back-to-back kills by Camryn Moeller, but a pair of four-point bursts by the Vikings gave them control. A pair of tip kills to the back corner by Parker gave the Vikings set point at 24-19, but a kill by Moeller finished off a long rally and kept Troy alive, but after winning a point on Alexa Holland’s serve, the Trojans were called for a rotation error, giving the game to East.
A string of four straight aces by Lauren Schmitz staked Troy out to an 8-3 lead in the second game, and Moeller later served six straight points, including one ace and capped off by a kill by Carly Pfeiffer, to give the Trojans a 10-point lead at 18-8.
“We had some bad serve receive that took us out of our system, but they were doing a good job of serving,” Peterson said. “Give them credit for a lot of that. They’ve got some tough servers. Schmitz went on quite the run there, and if you give a young player like that some confidence, they can go a long way.”
The Vikings began to battle back, though, closing the gap to 20-13 before going on a eight-point run to briefly take the lead, with Kyndall Hellyer serving seven straight points and Parker piling up five kills during that run alone. But the Trojans reclaimed momentum, with a Brianna Slusher ace making the score 24-22 and a kill by Kate Orban putting the game away one point later.
After that, though, it was all East.
“We revisited our mindset of having a better response,” Peterson said. “We sat down in that huddle after the second set, and we didn’t talk about strategy. We talked about our attitude and mindset. We kind of cleared the slate, and off we went. As you can see, once we get our mind right, we’re going to be pretty dangerous. It’s just keeping that consistency and focus.”
Hellyer had a five-point service run to put the Vikings up 6-1 to start Game 3, and after the Trojans closed the gap to 10-7, Gabrielle Hawkins served 10 straight points to put the game well out of reach and give East a 2-1 lead.
The fourth game began as a back-and-forth battle, with East holding a slim 8-7 lead before putting together a six-point run to earn some separation. Parker had a string of three consecutive solo blocks during the run, and as a team the Vikings put down nine blocks in the set — with the final point of the match coming on another block by Parker.
“Set Three was just kind of a train wreck in all aspects,” Owen said. “Jonni scored way more than 10, and we didn’t really get much going on our side of the net. We were predictable, which made it easy for them to defend. And even though they’re predictable, we still couldn’t stop it.”
“We were serving pretty well to our spots, and they were pretty much setting right where we wanted them to,” Peterson said. “They got trapped a little bit with their sets, and we were able to take advantage of that.”
Parker finished with 22 kills, three aces, five blocks and eight digs and Hellyer added 11 kills, three aces, four blocks and five digs to lead the Vikings. Lydia Conley had three kills and four blocks, Delaney Bourelle had three kills and a dig, Mikayla Schaffner had two kills and two digs, Hawkins had two aces and 10 digs, Sophie Jacomet had an ace and 14 digs, Macie Schaffner had 14 digs and Kaitlyn Mack had a dig.
Moeller led the Trojans with 17 kills, two blocks, an ace and 27 digs, Schmitz had six kills, five aces and five digs, Gabbi Johnson and Slusher had three kills apiece with Slusher adding a block and an ace, Orban had two kills and Pfeiffer had one kill and one block. Dana Wynkoop had 28 assists and 12 digs, Holland had 11 digs and Kearston Riley had 10 digs.
Both the Vikings and Trojans have a pair of league matches this week as they look to defend their respective conference championship runs. The Vikings, who have won seven straight Cross County Conference titles, face Ansonia Tuesday and Tri-Village Thursday. Troy, which is seeking its sixth straight Greater Western Ohio Conference American North Division title, takes on Butler Tuesday and Tippecanoe Thursday.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.