Lightning, Cougars jump out to early leads
The Hunting Hills Lightning went into the Central Alberta 4A boy’s volleyball championship final ranked No. 7 in the province.
However they knew there would be nothing easy about facing the Lindsay Thurber Raiders in the best-of-three series, considering the Raiders are ranked eighth.
But as has been the case all season the Lightning are slightly ahead of the Raiders as they pulled out a 22-25, 25-23, 31-29, 25-17 victory at Hunting Hills Thursday.
“Our zone is tough and they always play us tough, no matter what,” said Lightning head coach Adam Sillery.
The third game, which was as on the edge of your seat affair as any high school game you’ll see, proved to be the difference in the match.
The Lightning jumped into a 6-0 lead only to see the Raiders storm back to tie it at 8-8. From then on it was a see-saw battle with both teams taking a one-point lead before it was tied at 20. For the next six straight points the Lightning took a one point lead only to see the Raiders tie it. The Raiders then led for three points in a row before a missed serve tied it at 29-29. The Lightning took the lead again and then put it away with a huge block by Bobby Hamilton.
“Both teams battled in that set and it was a heart-breaker either way,” said Sillery. “There was some inconsistency on both sides and plays both coaches would like to take back, but that was big for us.”
“We didn’t react well in the fourth set, after losing that close one,” said Raiders head coach Terence McMullen. “That third set was a huge momentum shift and they capitalized on it and we were a bit tentative in the fourth. You can’t hit roll shots and give free balls and expect to beat a quality team.
“We needed to give ourselves a chance to compete in that set, but just didn’t.”
The Lightning also dominated at the net. Led by middle blocker Chase Walper they blocked almost everything the Raiders sent their way.
“We blocked well but they were a little predictable,” said Sillery.
“Their blockers did a good job and were ready for what we showed and made sure they had two blockers there,” said McMullen. “It’s hard to hit against two guys, it doesn’t matter how big you are.”
The teams meet again tonight at 6 p.m. at LTCHS with the third match, if necessary, tentatively scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday at Hunting Hills.
“Tomorrow gives us another shot, so we need to fix a few things. It will come down to who executes the best and the first three sets tonight we executed and played well.”
Sillery knows his troops can’t take anything for granted.
“That’s the biggest thing,” he said. “On any given day a team can come up and get you. But the nice thing about the best-of-three is that the better team should win.”
Cougars 3 Lightning 0
The better team won on the girls’ side with the Notre Dame Cougars taking a 25-19, 25-17, 25-16 victory over the Lightning.
The Lightning did hold a lead in all three sets, but had problems handling Cougars six-foot-three power hitter Laura McTaggart, who played on the junior national team during the summer.
“She’s one of the best in the province and can dominate games if you let her,” said Lightning head coach Scott Luck. “Tonight we let her. We didn’t adjust our blocks and defensive positioning.”
But for the most part McTaggart was hitting over the block.
“We worked on setting her higher so she has more of a chance to get those kills,” said Cougars head coach Sherry Schulzke, who also got a strong serving effort out of middle blocker Emily Elkins.
Elkins went on a long roll in both the second and third sets. In the third she went back to serve with the Cougars trailing 11-7 and didn’t leave until they had control of the set, and the match.
“We have a deal where I said I’d buy someone a milkshake if they serve 10 in a row and I thought I was going to buy,” said Schulzke with a laugh. “But really she was so consistent . . . it was awesome.”
“When she served those were momentum changers,” said Luck. “But volleyball is that way. A good service run can change the entire complexion of the game.”
Schulzke said she was a bit worried heading into the match.
“I was concerned because we haven’t played for a while while they played Tuesday. You’re not sure if you’ll get into a groove, but good things happened both offensively and defensively and we were more consistent than they were.”
The second match goes tonight at 6 p.m. at Notre Dame with the third, if needed, tentatively set for 1 p.m. Saturday at Notre Dame.