The Blazers bounce back and take the win after losing the first set to the Cavaliers
On Wednesday, Sept. 20 the Blair girls’ volleyball team (4-0) was crowned victorious against the Kennedy Cavaliers (1-4) 3-1 in a turnaround game. After initially being down in the first set, the Blazers impressively came back due to their effective communication and smart plays.
Kennedy was proven to be Blair’s toughest competition yet this season. After losing to the Cavaliers 1-3 last season on their senior night, the Blazers were ready and determined for a rematch this 2023 season.
The first set was an immediate shut down from the Cavaliers, after an impressive kill which gave them the first point advantage. Messy plays and poor defense were frequent between both teams, but Kennedy was able to gain a 2-5 lead which led the Blazers to calling a timeout.
Coming back after the lead however, freshman outside hitter Kahmyah Yirenkyi and junior outside hitter Nicole Neal were able to get the Blazers to surpass the Cavaliers through tricky hits, targeting different spots on the court. The crowd hyped up the Blazers even more after a beautiful line shot by Neal. Junior defensive specialist Leah Negash officially matched up with Kennedy after an ace serve at 9-9.
The Cavaliers began to identify more of Blair’s weaknesses as the game progressed, their serves became harder for serve-receive and their hits were targeted to deeper corners behind Blair’s defense. Neal changed her style of hitting and adjusted to every set even when out of system, which ultimately supported Blair at a steady place right next to Kennedy. The rest of the set was neck-to-neck, but unfortunately due to defensive errors, the Blazers fell to the Cavaliers at 23-25.
Blair served starting the second set and after a long rally, taking home the first point. With good saves from senior libero Karen Cao and killer hits from junior outside hitter Nicole Neal, the Blazers gained a lead very quickly into the second set. It is clear that the loss in the first set has not defeated the Blazer’s morale.
Unfortunately, Kennedy didn't give in and took the lead again a few minutes later. However after a well-called time-out and a substitution for senior co-captain Aria Shimanek gave the Blazers their groove back. Shimanek swang thoroughly past Kennedy’s blocks and rack up more points in the comeback. Neal delivered kill after kill until the Cavaliers fell. Blair won the second set 25-21 and fists were raised throughout the crowd in celebration, the game was officially looking up for the Blazers after a discouraging loss in the start.
The third set started and it was immediately clear that Blazer’s offensive strategy would bring them to victory. With aces and kills from Neal, Blair gained a comfortable lead, 14-9. The Cavaliers seemed to have lost their flow and their mistakes ended up costing them valuable points.
Not giving up the lead, the Blazers fought hard despite long rallies. The ball passed from Blazer to Cavalier until it met its end on Kennedy’s side of the court. Neal served out one more kill and the Blazers were able to take home the third set
With victory in sight, the fourth set was crucial to Blair. The Blazers gathered on the court with determination, not willing to lose so easily after coming so far in their bounce back stage of the game. It was evident that the Cavaliers were no match for the Blazers at this point, Blair was able to lead through multiple offensive errors by Kennedy. Eventually, a tie at 7-7 gave both sides even ground to determine who wanted to finish the set. With great defense by Blair and a shutout middle kill by senior captain middle blocker Chrissie Oppong, the Blazers were 13-10.
The lead was not stopping anytime soon for the Blazers. Even with a timeout by Kennedy at 15-10, Cao scored an ace serve and Neal was able to get two kills in a row. The Blazers were able to maintain their consistency despite Kennedy’s efforts.
More communication between the backrow players allowed Blair’s defense to really shine. Perfect coverage formed together by Cao and junior setter Manooyee Fedha allowed Neal to fully swing through more in-system plays. After two more ace serves, Kennedy called another timeout at 21-13. After the timeout, the Cavaliers struggled to communicate, and a final shank ultimately led to their fall against the Blazers at 25-16. The game ended, 3-1.
Blair proved themselves to be no easy challenge and were miraculously able to pick themselves back up. Communicating and taking the time to fix their smaller mistakes throughout the game helped the Blazers take advantage of Kennedy’s errors.
Neal blames Blair’s slow momentum on poor atmosphere in the beginning of the game, but believes in her fellow teammates to continue their constant improvement. “I think our setback in the first set was our lack of energy and just a lot of discouragement…But we got that energy back and we were playing strong…We are running new things and overall as a team, we are greatly improving" she said.
The Blazers will face the Northwood Gladiators at home this Friday, Sept. 22 at 5:30 PM.
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