By RICH KELLY
For the Star Beacon
ANDOVER TOWNSHIP —
From the last note of 4-year-old Nathan Jernigan’s rendition of the national anthem, the Pymatuning Valley Lakers were focused better than they have been on a consistent basis for much of this season.
They achieved consistency in every facet of the game, but especially had it on the defensive side of the nets against a game, but outmatched Mathews Mustangs team that played well but not well enough.
The result was a second-straight Northeastern Athletic Conference outright title for the Lakers, cemented by their 25-7, 25-18, 25-22 win.
“This is our second league title in a row,” PV coach Rob Wludyga said. “After losing four seniors from last year’s team, we had a bit of a question as to how it would go this year. Bbut our four seniors this season really stepped up and gave us the leadership we needed to succeed.”
Wludyga lauded the play of his seniors, too.
“Heather (Brant), Michealia (Skleres) and Ally (Workman) did a great job of setting the tone for us and our fourth senior, Erin Fetters, picked it up several notches late in the season when we needed her to,” he said.
Junior Bailee Mazzaro got things rolling with the first serve of the contest as Workman sent a perfect dink to just inside the line to her right, and Mazzaro, who tallied 11 points on the night, pushed PV to a quick 7-0 lead before a net serve gave the Mustangs their first point. A double hit got the ball right back for the Lakers, and sophomore Kelsea Brown served 13 more points in a row to open a 21-1 PV lead, and on a night when a school record for Mathews fell at the hands of libeo Halle Oatridge, the Mustangs (10-13, 8-7 in NAC) fought hard and played well but just couldn’t get back over the hump.
“PV played a very good defensive match tonight,” Mathews coach Carole O’Dell said. “They covered the floor very well. We’re a young team, with only 2 seniors, so we’re trying to build our team chemistry toward a good tournament run and for the future.”
Oatridge set a school record for digs with 16 on the night, giving her a total of 402 on the year.
“Things have been going really well for me this year,” she said. “I’m pretty much concentrating on volleyball now. I am trying to get our team to stay close this year for a tournament run and to finish strong.”
After the huge opening game win, PV had to break from a 3-3 tie after a Marisa O’Dell slam, and up stepped Heather Brant to provide the kill to untie the game. Another Brant slam made it 5-3, and PV (14-8, 10-3 in NAC) extended the lead to as much as 17-10 before the only period of the match for PV that saw them lose focus.
A 5-point run served up by Kelsey Brown, followed shortly thereafter by a 7-point stretch with Michealia Skleres serving, and PV had a 15-4 lead that they fought tooth and nail to hang on to as the Mustangs rallied again.
It was not enough to stop the Laker title run.
Brown had a big night, scoring 19 points, going 13-14 spiking, with a pair of aces, and passing successfully 16 times in 20 tries. Mazzaro added 11 points, and Brant added to her 7 points serving with 29-34 spiking and 13 aces. Skleres scored 9 points, was a perfect 12-12 spiking and had a monster night on the floor setting for other spikers with a perfect 50-50 effort.
“We came out with a lot of energy tonight,” Wludyga said. “Having played them earlier, the girls knew how they had to play tonight, and the girls established that right from the start.
“Consistency has been our problem all season, and starting with the last game last night against Grand Valley, we found what we wanted and for the most part, maintained it. In any sport, you like to peek late in the season.”
Maddy Nicula led the point parade for Mathews with 10 points, and Marisa O’Dell served up 5 points to go with 7 ace kills and 7 assists in passing. Oatridge served up a point to go with her 16 digs, a solid night against a title-minded PV team.
Kelly is a freelance writer from Jefferson.
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