ST. LEON — A Columbus East volleyball team that took its lumps against a brutal regular-season schedule is coming together at an opportune time.
Five days after closing the regular season with a second-place finish in the Carmel Invitational, the Olympians opened East Central Sectional play with a win against Columbus North. The Bull Dogs provided a challenge in each set, but East came away with a 25-18, 25-21, 25-18 victory.
“The end of the year is when you want to be peaking, and I feel like we’re playing our best volleyball right now,” East coach Stacie Pagnard said. “As a coach, you envision certain things by the end of the year, and we’re slowly reaching that goal and going a little bit farther than I every dreamed offensively.”
The Olympians (23-11) move on to face … in Saturday’s sectional semifinals at 11 a.m. The winner will face the winner of the second semifinal between Bloomington North and East Central in the final at 7 p.m.
East jumped out to an early 4-0 lead in the first set, but the Bull Dogs (16-14) came back to tie it at 7-7. After a sideout, Seena Greiwe served six consecutive points to put the Olympains in control at 14-7.
North stayed close the entire second set and was within 22-21 late. But then East got a sideout, and Brooke Banister served the final two points, with set point coming on an ace.
In the third set, North jumped out to a 7-4 lead. The set was tied at 10-10 before the Olympians got a sideout, and Alaysha Pollert served three consecutive points to help East pull away.
“I was very impressed with the way we played together as a team,” East senior Cortney VanLiew said. “I thought that everybody did what we did during practice. We put everything together, and it was awesome to watch us all together — not just separate people. We put in 11 months of work to get to this time period right now, and I feel like we’re very prepared for what’s in store.”
VanLiew led the Olympians with 20 kills, three blocks and 10 digs. Kendal Williams recorded 33 assists, C.J. Clausen had three blocks and Banister served three aces.
Also for East, Bailey Western notched six kills and an ace, and Allison Mack had two blocks. Banister tallied nine digs, while Williams added six digs and Seena Greiwe had five digs.
“I couldn’t be prouder of Brooke Banister for her ball control and the defense that she’s playing,” Pagnard said. “We had a big match with C.J. Clausen blocking-wise. The little pieces are coming together at the right time.”
Hannah Weaver led the Bull Dogs with 13 kills and 15 digs. Mady Johnson recorded 29 assists, Imani Guy had three blocks and Maddy Sebahar served two aces.
Also for North, Guy, Agustina Fainguersch and Maliah Howard-Bass all pounded six kills, and Howard-Bass had two blocks. Fainguersch notched a block, 11 digs and an ace; Mackenzie Rooks added nine digs and an ace and Sebahar contributed eight digs.
“This is the best our program has looked in quite some time, and that’s not to take away from previous teams because North has had some great teams,” North coach Caitlin Greiner said. “This year has been one of our most well-balanced, hard-working, determined with all-around leaders on the court, and it’s been a fun season because of that.”
The Bull Dogs also had played the Olympians tough in a 31-29, 25-18, 26-24 loss on Sept. 29. While it appears North might be closing the gap on its crosstown rival, Greiner didn’t want to use East as a barometer.
“The girls were focused, and they knew what they wanted and they knew where they wanted to bring the program to,” Greiner said. “I think we are competitors, not just with the Columbus Easts of the world, but with all of the tough teams we see during the season.”