By Rob Kiser
There is no question senior setter Cassidy Sullenberger is leader for the Piqua volleyball team.
So, with the match hanging in the balance, there was no one better to have at the service line when it mattered most.
After winning the first two sets 26-24, 25-15 — the Lady Indians had dropped the third set 31-29 and trailed much of the fourth set.
But, just as it looked like it was headed to a fifth set, Piqua got a sideout to tie things at 21 — and Sullenberger served out the match as Piqua improved to 3-4 heading into GWOC North play next week.
“This was big for us, because the last couple times we have been in this situation we haven’t won,” Sullenberger said.
After Sullenberger served two points, Northmont called timeout at 23-21.
“Really, I was just thinking put the ball in play and don’t make any mistakes,” Sullenberger said about the last four points.
She answered the timeout with an ace to give Piqua match point. On the final point, Ashley Ho and Kyla Blankenship both went for the ball and Blankenship managed to bump it over the net.
“Kyla (Blankenship) is an aggressive player and she was really active tonight,” Piqua coach Kaila Cook said.
Blankenship’s bump fell harmlessly to the floor on the T-Bolts side and the Piqua celebration was on.
“It was just an awesome feeling,” Sullenberger said.
Piqua had gotten the match off to a great start.
Mikayla Schaffner had pulled Piqua even at seven with a kill in the opening set, but Northmont had run off four straight points to take a 22-19 lead and it looked like the Lady Indians might lose another close set.
But, after a Cook timeout, Haley Michael responded with a big kill for a sideout and stopped the T-Bolts momentum.
Kelsey Magoteaux had a service point and Ashley Brading pounded two kills for sideouts to keep the Lady Indians within 24-23.
Lauren Williams then stepped up and served out the game.
A tip and kill by Ashley Ho gave Piqua a 25-24 lead, forcing a Northmont timeout.
Following the timeout, Williams unleashed a strong serve and Northmont’s return was just beyond the line to give Piqua the set.
“That is one of the things we have been working on,” Cook said. “Cassidy (Sullenberger) tends to like to set Kyla (Blankenship) because they have played together for a long time. We have been working on getting other people involved.”
Early in the second set, it was Piqua taking control on Williams’s serve again — with the sophomore serving two points to give the Lady Indians a 5-2 lead.
Kyla Blankenship had two kills for sideouts to make it 7-4, before Northmont rallied to take and 8-7 lead.
After a Northmont hitting error tied it at 8, Blankenship served five straight points. That included an ace as Piqua went in front 13-8.
Another weapon for Piqua was Sullenberger mixing quicks in with her sets.
At 14-11, on Magoteux’s serve, she did it again. That was followed by a block and kill by Ho to give Piqua an 18-11 lead.
Blankenship and Brading had kills for sideouts and Williams had a service point, making it 22-13.
After Northmont hit a ball wide to make it 23-15, Piqua served out the set on two points by Ho.
But, just when things seemed to be going Piqua’s way, the Lady Indians suffered a heartbreaking 31-29 loss in the third set, which ended on a controversial call.
“Because of the way it ended, I think it fired the girls up,” Cook said. “So, that was probably a good thing.”
Despite trailing much of the fourth set, the young Piqua team was not going to let this one get away.
Cook called a timeout late in the fourth set when Piqua was still trailing.
“I just wanted to settle the girls down,” Cook said. “I told them this is going to be the night. This is going to be the time we come through in a close match.”
As it turned, she got it exactly right.
Along with 30-plus assists, Sullenberger served two aces — as did Blankenship.
Blankenship and Brading both had 11 kills, Ho had four blocks and Magoteaux had a strong defensive game with 26 digs.
And in the end, Piqua had exactly what they wanted — Sullenberger with the ball in her hands with the match on the line.
“This was a big step for us,” Cook said.
The Lady Indians will look to ride that momentum into GWOC North play next week, hosting Trotwood-Madison Tuesday and playing at Sidney Thursday.
Rob Kiser is Sports Editor for the Daily Call. He can be reached at (937) 451-3334.