MILL CREEK — There was definite purpose to scheduling a power like third-ranked Bellarmine Prep early in the season, Jackson volleyball coach Ashley Allen said.
But victory over another ranked team was NOT the No. 1 Timberwolves’ top priority in this match. Facing Bellarmine Prep now was about gaining experience. Allen wanted her girls playing another great team to learn more about their own strengths and weaknesses.
Still, the victory was sweet as the Timberwolves took measure of themselves while stopping Bellarmine Prep 3-1 on set scores of 25-22, 19-25, 25-23 and 25-16.
“Having Bellarmine on our schedule wasn’t about beating Bellarmine, it was about having that competition against them,” Allen said. “They are a really strong team and it’s unusual for us to get that type of competition early in the season.
“Having a team that’s ranked third in the state playing a team that’s ranked first, that is awesome to be able to have that. So, win or lose, we just wanted to have them on our schedule so they could kind of beat up on us and again we could beat up on that. Having them play us pointed out our vulnerabilities as a team so that’s going to make us better in the long run.
“The win is a bonus, but it’s more about having them show us what our weaknesses are.”
Jackson didn’t appear to have many weaknesses early in the first set, jumping out to an 8-1 lead. However, the Lions reeled off an 11-5 run to close the deficit to one. The Timberwolves responded with another run re-extending the lead to 22-16. Again the resilient Lions came all the way back to close the gap to just one at 23-22. That’s as close as the Lions got as the Timberwolves scored the next two points, capped off by a Payton Locknane ace to take a 1-0 lead in the match.
Bellarmine Prep started the second set a little slow, falling behind 5-1, but came back with six straight points to take a 7-5 lead and never trailed for the rest of the set, evening the match 1-1 with a 25-19 victory.
The third set proved to be the most important of the match — and also the most competitive. There were six ties and five lead changes in the game and neither team had an advantage greater than five points. The difference again proved to be Locknane, who delivered aces on two of Jackson’s final three points to help the Timberwolves win the set 25-23.
“Pretty clutch right?” Allen said. “You are always going to feel nervous when it’s the end of the set and it’s that close. She has, since her freshman year, been working on that top-spin serve and it just keeps getting better and better and better. It’s unique, so it’s something that a lot of players haven’t seen and it’s unique to her, too, which is really helpful for us and I think what makes her so successful as a server.
“It’s nice to have her in there in the clutch and really be able to perform.”
Jackson’s third-set victory seemed to deflate the Lions for the fourth game, which was never really close and won by the Timberwolves 25-16.
“I think that is pretty common in volleyball,” Allen said. “If you watch and the teams split the first two, whoever wins the third usually wins the fourth. It doesn’t always go that way, but I think that’s pretty common.
“Momentum is a huge thing in volleyball because you can’t slow down the game. In basketball, soccer — all those — you can stop the ball when you have possession. In volleyball, you can’t just hold the ball and try to slow it down. Momentum plays a huge role in our sport, so winning that third set was definitely a big factor in who won the match. It’s not something we focus on, but looking back on it that was really important.”
As a team, Jackson had 50 digs, 11 blocks and 13 aces. The only stats Allen said she is providing this season are team statistics.
Courtney Schwan led Bellarmine Prep with 17 kills and 20 digs.
Senior Emmy Allen said the Timberwolves had been spending a lot of time preparing for the Lions.
“We have been focusing on playing them and keying on the things they do for most of our practices,” she said. “So I think it has paid off.”
Aaron Lommers covers prep sports for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.