By KEVIN HARRIS
NEW ALBANY —
In the past, it was nearly a guarantee that archrivals Floyd Central and New Albany would play five sets when they square off.
Thursday night’s matchup at The Doghouse between the Floyd County foes was an exception to the rule.
The Class 4A No. 7 Highlanders rolled to a 25-13, 25-20, 25-12 victory over the Bulldogs to improve their record to 6-2.
“Let’s just lay it on the line — Floyd Central is a really good team and probably has one of the best setters [junior Remi Bowman] in the entire state. Let’s give credit to where credit is due,” Bulldogs’ coach John Breeding said. “For the most part, many times we played with them. If we can erase some errors, can gain some experience over the next couple of weeks and can get everybody involved and attacking, who knows what can happen?”
Highlanders’ coach Bart Powell thought his players could have performed better, as well. Floyd Central is in the middle of a difficult week where it lost to Louisville perennial power Sacred Heart in four sets on Tuesday. The Highlanders will play against a formidable field at the New Castle Invitational on Saturday.
“We played really well Tuesday night against Sacred Heart, and I thought we would bring that momentum into tonight and we really didn’t,” said Powell, who thought his team played lethargic at times. “[The Highlanders] played tired in my opinion. Those last 15 points of the match were the way we’ve been playing all year. I don’t know if it was New Albany and we were a little bit nervous.”
Bowman also felt like the Highlanders could have played better.
“We weren’t focused enough before the game. Even though we were pumped up to play New Albany, for some reason we weren’t ready to play,” the 2012 Class 4A All-State selection said. “New Albany is really good competition for us since they’re our rival. It wasn’t the way we wanted to play, but I think it was good that we finished the way we wanted to finish.”
Floyd Central took control of the first set right at the outset. The Highlanders tallied the first four points and pulled out to a 13-4 lead.
The Bulldogs (6-2) got their deficit down to 18-12, but Floyd Central answered with six points in a row to go up 24-12. Bowman served five of those six points.
New Albany looked like it was going to bounce back in Set 2. The Bulldogs went up 9-4 when junior Brook McCoy forced a sideout with a kill.
Floyd Central responded with an 8-1 run to go up 12-10 thanks to a pair of service aces from sophomore Kayli Dempster.
The rivals traded the lead a few times before the Highlanders went on a 5-0 run to take a 20-16 lead. Bowman served three aces during that spurt.
“They served very aggressively and our serve-reception at times was not very good,” Breeding said. “But when we were on serve-receive and when we passed the ball, we played well and we executed our offense. But when the passes are not there, we don’t get the ball to where we need to get it.”
New Albany cut its deficit to 20-18 after back-to-back kills by Alexis Lete and McCoy.
The Highlanders sewed up the set with a 5-2 run, as senior Sydney Engle and sophomore Mikaila Humphrey each had two kills during the spurt.
In the third set, Floyd Central broke an 8-8 tie with a 15-1 run to go up 23-9. The Highlanders concluded the spurt with 12 unanswered points, as New Albany struggled to force a sideout.
“I’d venture to say that a number of points that Floyd Central got we’re our own errors, but not all of them,” Breeding said. “I’ll give credit to where credit is due — Floyd hit the ball well, but we also shot ourselves in the foot a couple of times.”
Senior Tierney Flaherty led the Highlanders with 12 kills, while Engle had seven kills, three blocks and three aces. Humphrey chipped in five kills.
A lot of credit for the Highlanders’ balanced offensive attack was Bowman, who had 28 assists. Bowman also had six kills and four aces.
“She’s awfully good and we’ve got awful good hitters as well,” Powell said. “If we can get Remi the ball where it needs to be, we’ve got three options every time.”
Powell thinks his squad will get better once middle blocker Gwyn Jones can get back into the groove after being injured. The sophomore played in her second match of 2013 on Thursday after making her season debut on Tuesday against Sacred Heart. Jones had five kills against the Bulldogs.
“The timing with Gwyn is not quite there yet. We’ve still got some work to do there,” Powell said. “Her legs looked tired tonight from the length of the match on Tuesday night and just trying to get back into the swing of things.”
Lete led New Albany with 10 kills and four blocks.
“She played very aggressively and she scored when we needed to have a point to stop their runs,” Breeding said. “We need to pass well all the way around in our rotation and get contributions from everybody for us to be really successful.”
Also for the Bulldogs, McCoy ended up with 10 digs and six kills, freshman setter Sadie Meyer had 17 assists, junior libero Madison Dibble made nine digs and junior outside hitter Audrey Donastorg had seven digs, five kills and two aces.
“I’m not totally disappointed. I saw a lot of good things that we did against a very good team. They’re a really good team and at times we played well with them,” Breeding said. “I’m still very excited about this team because I know they are going to improve. [The Bulldogs] have improved. From the first match against North Harrison until now, we’re a lot better than we were.”
New Albany will compete at the Bedford North Lawrence Invitational on Saturday. The Bulldogs will face Edgewood, Terre Haute South and Terre Haute North.
FLOYD CENTRAL 25 25 25
NEW ALBANY 13 20 12
Aces — Floyd Central: Remi Bowman 4, Sydney Engle 3, Kayli Dempster 2; New Albany: Audrey Donastorg 2.
Assists — Floyd Central: Bowman 28; New Albany: Sadie Meyer 17.
Blocks — Floyd Central: Sydney Engle 3; New Albany: Alexis Lete 4.
Digs — Floyd Central 11, Riley Kaiser 9, Engle 7, Bowman 6; New Albany: Brook McCoy 10, Madison Dibble 9, Donastorg 7.
Kills — Floyd Central: Tierney Flaherty 12, Engle 7, Bowman 6, Mikaila Humphrey 5, Gwyn Jones 5, Hannah Joly 2; New Albany: Lete 10, McCoy 6, Donastorg 5.