Girard handles Struthers, 3-0
The Indians won the first set, but Struthers answered with a big rally to start the second game. The Wildcats led, 5-0, momentum was shifting and Girard’s players looked a little bewildered after dominating just a few minutes ago.
Longtime coach Phil Walters didn’t call a timeout. It was a teaching moment for the Indians, and they passed the test.
Girard rallied to win the set — and eventually the match. The Indians overpowered a scrappy Struthers team in three games, 25-13, 25-20 and 25-13.
“I like to see them do that,” said Walters of forcing his players to regroup on their own. “I told them at the end of the game, that was probably the best thing they could take away from this day: They played through a little adversity.
“They got down a little bit, but I let them figure it out, and they pulled together and played through.”
It was an important step for an up-and-coming Indians team that has played well most of the season but was going through a rough stretch as the playoffs near.
Girard (16-6, 10-4) had dropped two of its last three, losing in straight sets to South Range last week and in four to Poland before beating Niles on Tuesday. They started off strong against Struthers, taking an 18-9 lead in Game 1 before the Wildcats fought back. Struthers cut the lead to 19-13, but an errant serve seemed to throw the Wildcats off their game as Girard scored the final six points.
While Struthers is just 1-18 overall, Walters conceded that they’re a talented team with a few strong players.
“Struthers put together a run,” he said of Game 2, when the Wildcats took the early 5-0 lead. “They did the same thing the first time they played us. They’ve got nice hitters. As long as we just keep playing our game, sometimes you’ve just got to trudge though that.”
Struthers got the lead thanks to a few powerful kills and a couple strong blocks by 6-foot senior Kaylei Shaffer. The Indians slowly chipped away at the advantage and eventually went up 17-16. The Wildcats battled and tied the set twice after losing the lead, but they couldn’t maintain the high level of play they had at the outset.
“It’s almost like the story of the season,” said second-year coach Millie Manning of the inconsistent play. “We have a lot of strong players, but typically, we struggle in certain rotations based on who’s in at what time. They’ve had a hard time adjusting on serve-receive to be able to get out of that.”
The lack of continuity showed down the stretch.
After Struthers tied the second set at 19, Girard scored six of the last seven points for a 25-20 victory. It was more of the same in the third game, with Girard controlling the tempo, withstanding a Wildcats’ run that got them within 13-10 and running way with it in the latter portion of the set.
Lauren Pallone and Allison Durkin led Girard. Pallone had 15 kills and eight aces, while Durkin added 13 assists and nine digs.
Walters hopes the victory is another boost in a season that has had its fair share of positive moments. The Indians were on an eight-game winning streak before dropping a five-set thriller to previously unbeaten Lakeview. That’s what started their aforementioned minor slide.
The fact his players responded the way they did on Wednesday gives Walters more confidence with a little more than a week to go before the postseason begins.
“We’ve been strong all season,” he said. “We’ve had our hiccups. Just like anyone, we go south a little bit. We had a few games where we had too many unforced errors. In the second half of the season, teams get better.
“… We had a hiccup about a week ago and we struggled a little bit, but we played through it, and now we’re back to where we were.”