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Girard hangs on in back-and-forth battle

BERLIN CENTER — In a well-played and closely-contested battle Monday night, the Girard volleyball team made enough plays to top host Western Reserve, 21-25, 25-19, 22-25, 25-13, 15-8.

The non-league match pitted a pair of dominant middle hitters and lots of pieces around them, as the teams continue to prepare for long postseason tournament runs.

Girard senior Natalie Pallone was dominant at the net with 30 kills, but also displayed her versatility by contributing 15 points, six aces and 27 digs. Senior libero Lexi Cochran supplied 13 points and 25 digs. Freshman outside hitter Lauren Pallone had 11 kills and four aces.

“The seniors, especially Natalie and Lexi, really kept calm when we were down 2-1 by encouraging the rest of the team and getting them refocused and hyped to go out there and rally the way we did,” said Girard coach Chelsea Guerrieri, whose team improved to 12-5. “I can’t say enough about those two with their play and their leadership.

“But I’m very proud of all of the girls because they all did things tonight when we were down. I would’ve like to see that confidence and intensity throughout the match, but I’m glad we finally saw it in the final two sets. We just didn’t seem awake before that.”

Part of that was the play of Western Reserve, which fell to 11-6.

Junior middle-hitter Danielle Vuletich had 14 kills and six blocks, including four stuff-blocks and senior Laura Sigworth added 11 kills and 15 assists.

“We had to make a change going into the fourth set because (Reserve) had a good, big girl at the net and she was blocking lots of shots or making us hit soft and high above her,” Guerrieri said. “You’d think after a few sets, our girls would’ve realized that if you hit it into the wall, the ball is going to come back at you. But we adjusted well and began hitting from different spots and our passing improved in the past two sets, too.”

Blue Devils coach Jennifer Lorenzi sensed early in the fourth set when Girard bolted to an 11-3 lead, that things had changed.

“We were prepared at the net and we knew about the Pallone sisters, but Girard really served the ball very well and we struggled with serve-receive and serving at key times in the match,” she said. “We’re still working on things because we’ve had more injuries that we’ve had in the past several years combined. So we’re dealing with lineup changes and we’ve got some girls, like Laura (Sigworth) playing with a lot of discomfort.

“It seems every match is going five sets and everyone is getting up to play us. I’d like to see us respond better. I think we have a target on our backs because we won our league championship last year and were district runners-up. But we have to match that intensity.”

Sigworth tore her ACL at the end of basketball season and is still wearing a brace for protection.

After breezing in set four, Girard began the fifth set with a 3-0 lead, thanks to a pair of kills from Rachel Sobnosky and another from Natalie Pallone. After a kill from Lauren Pallone and another from Kennedy Siebert made it 7-4, and Lauren Pallone served up consecutive aces as the Indians’ lead stretched to 11-5.

Kills from Sigworth and Hannah Diaz and a block from Diaz gave the Blue Devils some life at 12-8, but Girard scored the final three points.

“These are good matches as we try to toughen up for the stretch run and try to get healthy again,” said Lorenzi, whose team also received 18 digs and 12 assists from Kennedy Miller.

Raegan Cochran added 29 assists and eight digs for the Indians.

“I hope that we start Thursday’s match against Lakeview the same way we closed this one out,” Guerrieri said. “Lakeview beat us in the first round of league play and they are a very good team. We have to be focused from the start to avenge that loss.”

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