BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
The Pioneer volleyball team’s first match in the Class 2A state tournament ended much like the matches the previous 16 years in the Class 1A state tournament – with a Lady Panther win and aspirations for more wins down the road.
Pioneer fended off a tough Lewis Cass effort in the first set and went on to win 25-22, 25-15, 25-9 in a Class 2A, Sectional 36 quarterfinal at Rochester Thursday,
The No. 5 Lady Panthers improved to 26-7 and will play Wabash (24-6) in a semifinal at approximately 12:30 p.m. Saturday.
Lewis Cass finished 5-22.
Pioneer trailed 17-14 in Game 1 before scoring five straight points. Mande Weisenburger started the run with a kill and then went down the right sideline three straight points for aces to give Pioneer an 18-17 lead. A Mackenzie Rogers kill closed the run.
A Weisenburger kill got Pioneer to 24-21, but a Brooke Whitney roll shot for Lewis Cass staved off the first set point before a Weisenburger top closed out the set.
“They had their opportunities to get us in that first set,” Pioneer coach Rod Nies said. “Really, we weren’t playing very well. We had a lot of errors and a lot of things that were our fault – service errors, serve receive errors, a lot of hitting errors. It’s just one of those things where we’ve got to clean up and get better. We’re going to have to get cleaned up against Wabash, or we’re going to be sent home packing.”
Nies added that he hopes it was just “sectional jitters.”
In Game 2, Pioneer jumped out to a 9-3 lead only to see Lewis Cass get back to within 10-8. At 11-9, Adeline Cripe had an ace, and Brooklyn Borges had a kill and a stuff block as Pioneer opened the lead back to 16-9.
Lewis Cass again crawled back to 19-14 before Pioneer finished with a 6-1 run that included a Borges ace, a Weisenburger kill, a Kylie Attinger stuff block and a Blair Grigsby ace.
Pioneer then ran out to a 13-3 lead in Game 3. Cripe capped the run with two aces.
“We definitely started off slow and worked our way up,” Cripe said. “We still aren’;t at 100 percent. A lot of girls are sick right now, so we’re still working with that, and we were finding it really tough to get through the sickness and stuff. … We’re getting through it.”
As a team, Pioneer had six aces in Game 3.
“When we’re serving well, we can spot-serve pretty well,” Nies said. “And we can put a lot of pressure on the other team’s serve receive and disrupt a lot of their middles if they like to run slides or quicks or gaps. We’ll try to serve those areas, so it disrupts that. The girls did a nice job of coming back on that and serving well.”
Cripe has returned to playing libero on the varsity after playing that position in junior high, on JV and on her club team. Cripe has a float serve and a topspin serve, and she usually looks to the bench at Nies to see which serve he wants and where he wants it located before she unleashes it.
“It’s been very fun,” Cripe said of playing libero. “It’s very natural. I’m used to being on the court to help communicate and just help the team out basically.”