Evergreens top Eagles
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
SOLON SPRINGS — In recent years, both Northwood and Solon Springs have put together volleyball teams that advanced to the sectional tournament. This year, however, the teams are at opposite ends of their development.
In Solon Springs, the Eagles are rebuilding after a string of successful seasons.
“We lost some of the players that we thought would be coming back, but the group of girls that are here now are working hard and have been improving,” said Eagles coach Marcus Besonen. “It just comes down to getting our games in and learning how to make fewer and fewer mistakes. I think we’ve been doing that, and teams are having to earn more points from us than we’ve been giving them.”
The Evergreens, on the other hand, returned all but two of their players from last year’s regional championship team. Add to that experience an abundance of height (three Evergreen players are near or taller than 6 feet) and Northwood is a formidable opponent.
“They’re definitely a good team. They’ve got a lot of experience, and they know how to play,” Besonen said. “I think their experience of going to the basketball playoffs (last year) really helped them too out there; you can see that they have a lot of confidence in what they’re going to do.”
Northwood proved too much for the Eagles Monday night in Solon Springs as the Evergreens won 3-0 (25-8, 25-11, 25-10).
“We’re undefeated, I know that. I think we’re 8-0, maybe,” said Evergreens coach Tod Wise said. “To tell you the truth, I don’t keep track of all that stuff.”
Wise is instead focused on improving his team’s fundamentals and filling the holes in the back row left by the graduation of Rachel Hanley and Katie Sohn.
“We really lost some strength. We lost two key players and we’re trying to get a chemistry going where we can make what we’ve got here really work to its potential,” Wise said. “The potential is there, we’ve just got to reach it.”
On Monday, Wise tinkered with his lineup to help the Evergreens reach their potential. He asked players to work on positioning their serves and also tried a few new combinations with his players, switching some of his middle players to the outside.
Ultimately, Wise said the goal is to have players step up their blocking and hitting at the net to compensate for the experience lost in the back row.
Against Solon Springs, Northwood’s front row took advantage of its height. The tallest player on the Eagles’ roster is 5-7. The Evergreens’ shortest player is listed at 5-6.
“It’s tough to play around all that size up there,” Besonen said. “They did a good job playing mistake free. We definitely made our fair share.”
In the opening game, Northwood moved out quickly and built a lead Solon Springs could not overcome as the Evergreens won 25-8.
In the second game, the Evergreens again got off to a blazing start, taking a 9-0 lead behind three ace serves from Teagen Harings and strong play from Northwood’s front row.
The Eagles finally broke onto the board when a serving error gave the ball to Vanessa Zeman. The Solon Springs junior then dropped two light serves just over the net, catching Northwood off guard and moving the score to 9-3.
The Evergreens regrouped to push their advantage to 10 after back-to-back aces by Annie Block. Solon Springs then made its biggest run of the game as the Eagles again caught Northwood unprepared with its serves. This time it Valerie Garay who gained two quick points for Solon Springs on her serve and eventually moved her team within six, 13-7.
From there, the Evergreens regained the momentum with ace serves by Sara Radzak and well-placed kills from Sarah Benson and Deanna Scheller. Harings finished off the game with three ace serves for the 25-11 win.
Solon Springs started the third game with an ace serve from Zeman and took a 3-1 lead a pair of early errors from Northwood. The Eagles kept the lead until Benson tipped the ball over the net to tie the game at 4-4. Northwood took its first lead of the game on the next play and won the following two points on aces from Scheller.
The Eagles closed to 8-5 before Northwood took control with an 8-1 run and finished out the match with a spike from Benson and an ace serve from Scheller.
“I think when we played in stretches of each game, being confident in what we were doing, we were able to put together a little bit of a run,” Besonen said. “It wasn’t much, but as soon as we played with confidence and played where we were supposed to, good things happened.”
“He’s a good coach, and he’s going to build this program up again,” Wise said.
Northwood, meanwhile, has its eyes set on another East Lakeland Conference.
Wise said Cameron is the team that usually takes the conference title from the Evergreens, and the Comets have a strong team again this year. Northwood plays at Cameron Oct. 5.