Neither Hammond nor Cardinal Newman had their key senior setters on the floor at the start of Tuesday’s key SCISA Region 1-3A volleyball match on the Cardinals floor.Hammond quarterback Kaki Smith was ill, while CN leader Alex Watson was relegated to watching from the bench after undergoing an emergency appendectomy on Saturday.
Smith, after sitting out the first game, returned to action in the second game. All Watson could do was sit as calmly as possible next to her parents (and coaches) Bob and Candi Watson.
Not surprisingly, the Skyhawks took early command in the region championship race with a 3-1 win. Hammond totally dominated in the final three games with Smith running the show – 25-10, 25-7, 25-10. Cardinal Newman edged the Smith-less Skyhawks 25-23 in the first game.
Every part of Hammond’s game improved with Smith on the floor – hitting, passing, serving, defense.
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“It really is hard to explain how much of a difference a good setter came make to a team,” said Hammond coach Andy Edgren.
“But that’s what the way it works in this game, and that was the case tonight for both teams. When went out there we got her the ball and she started clicking with the hitters. Things just all fell into place.”
Smith agreed with the assessment.
“With the passing comes the flow and things start clicking,” she said.
“I couldn’t be more happy about where we are as a team right now. We’re so much closer than any teams I’ve ever been on before.”
Hammond improved to 6-1 in regular season matches, and is 3-0 in region play.
Smith rang up 28 assists and six kills in her three games of work. The major beneficiary of Smith’s return was fellow senior Elaine Epting. The 6-foot-4 middle hitter had no kills or blocks in the first game with Smith on shelf. With Smith in place, Epting dominated the final three games with 16 kills and five blocks. Smith and Epting were particularly effective on quick set plays.
Bailey Dukes and Caroline Hudon also had productive outings. Dukes finished with nine kills, 38 service points and three aces, while Hudon had 11 kills and three aces.
“We knew this was going to be a big match,” said Epting. “We just wanted to stay calm and play every point like it was the last and I think we did that.”
“We expected things to be a little slow offensively with Kaki out of the first game but we were all confident that we would get it back together and pull it out,” said senior Sarah Felmly.
Cardinal Newman, which has had no practice time to break their new setters, had no offensive flow at all after producing 12 kills in the opening-game win. The Cards managed just seven kills and three assists over the final three games.
“We’ve had no practice time with our new setters since we lost Alex, but I didn’t expected that we’d struggle the way we did tonight,” said CN coach Bob Watson.
The Cardinals fell to 1-6 overall, and dropped its region opener. CN has lost six in a row since opening the regular season with a win over Gilbert.