SHELBYVILLE — Despite Columbus East posting a pair of regular-season victories against Bloomington South, the Olympians were not about to take the Panthers lightly in their first-round sectional volleyball match Thursday night at Shelbyville.
That attention and respect was evident Thursday as East had to regroup and refocus before registering another win against Bloomington South, this time a 25-18, 25-23, 25-15 triumph.
The Olympians (26-9) advance to semifinal play at 11 a.m. Saturday against Bloomington North, which eliminated Columbus North in Thursday’s first match. The championship match is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Both squads came out firing, but it was East that found itself in a hole midway through the opening set. The Panthers held just a 6-5 lead before they combined a pair of kills with four Olympian errors to push their advantage to 12-5.
Class 4A No. 10 East then flipped on the switch.
Behind the steady serving of Cortney VanLiew, the Olympians ripped off five consecutive points and patiently reeled South in to knot the action at 15-15 moments later.
Back-to-back kills by senior Brooke Statler along with two key plays by fellow 6-footer Kortney Thalls helped ignite East to outscore Bloomington South 20-6 down the stretch. VanLiew blasted a trio of kills that pushed the Olympians in front 19-16, while Kendal Williams opened the first of four successful serves with an ace.
East coach Stacie Pagnard’s team would not trail again the remainder of the contest.
“Bloomington South brought energy and were a hard team for us to match up with defensively early on,” Pagnard said. “Once we got our rotation right, we settled down and did fine.”
VanLiew finished with 16 kills, while Katie Mack added seven kills and a dozen digs. Brooke Banister paced the team with 13 digs, as well as four aces, and Williams notched a trio of aces to go along with her 25 assists.
East also showed its defensive strength at the net, where Statler and Thalls each registered four blocks, while Bailey Western had three.
The Olympians also fell behind early in the pivotal second set, trailing 8-5, before once again cutting out their own miscues and letting the smooth serving of Williams, Banister and Seena Griewe set the tone.
With action tied 12-12, Mack blasted a pair of kills and Banister followed with consecutive aces to put East on top 16-12. A barrage of blistering spikes from VanLiew and Western proved to be too much for the Panthers, who managed to pull within 20-19 before two more hammers by VanLiew put the momentum back on East’s side.
“I’m proud of VanLiew,” Pagnard said. “She started out struggling, but never quit and ended up contributing more than just her usual intensity.”
Any thoughts Bloomington South had of extending the match were pretty much dashed within minutes after the start of the third set when the Olympians bolted ahead 5-1 and never looked back. A smash by Mack made things 12-4, and a stuff at the net by Thalls pushed the lead to 18-10.
The Panthers attempted to make one last rally late in the match, but their own miscues enabled East to coast to the 10-point victory.
“We’ll definitely work on some fundamentals before Saturday,” Pagnard said. “We opened the season against Bloomington North, and they look like a different team. But we’ve come a long way, too.”