BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
AKRON — The Tippecanoe Valley volleyball team’s match against Plymouth Wednesday was about who was there and who was not.
Who was there was Plymouth coach Jon Hutton. He’s the former Valley coach and a current Valley faculty member returning for a second visit as a visiting coach after also coaching here in 2020.
During his time as Valley coach, one of his players was Ashley Ramsey. She is Ashley Derf now, and Derf is Valley’s current coach.
Who was also there was Plymouth 6-0 senior outside hitter Taylor Delp. Valley had trouble containing Delp as Plymouth claimed a 25-18, 25-21, 25-19 win.
Valley fell to 0-2.
“She’s awesome,” Derf said of Delp. “We got a couple touches on her, but when we were trying to take cross away, she saw that and took line. When we tried to take line, she’d go cross. She’s awesome.”
Who was not there were Erika Henderson and Abby Koch. Henderson was in the gym but did not play because of a “family thing” that came up on Monday and had to sit out due to team rules, according to Derf. Koch has a back injury. Henderson is Valley’s libero, and Koch is one of the setters in Valley’s two-setter system.
“Two of our captains and two great passers for us,” Derf said in describing the absence of the two players. “I feel like the girls did very well. They stepped up and filled those gaps, and Erika and Abby did a great job on the bench teaching those girls that were maybe struggling and just trying to feed them energy.”
With Koch out, sophomore Avery Wagoner handled the setting alone.
“We need to pass better so that she can set better,” Derf said. “She’s a workhorse. She’s always been a workhorse. She’s always going to be a workhorse. But we have to get her better passes.”
Valley led 9-4 at one point in Game 1, but Plymouth went on a 15-4 run to take a 19-13 lead. Delp had a kill from the back row, a kill from the outside off the Valley block and a tip.
Valley would hang within 23-18, but Mackaylie Costello put a two-handed tip into the net and a Marley Christy ace that included a miscommunication by Valley closed out the game.
Plymouth was ahead 21-16 at one point in Game 2 before four straight Valley points got Valley within one. A kill from Costello was part of the rally, and when Delp missed on a kill try into the net from the opposite side, Valley was within 21-20.
But a Karli Hogue service error, an Ellery Bassett tip after an extraordinary dig on a missile from Valley’s Ava Smith and a Wagoner kill error on a jump ball at the net made it 24-20. A Costello kill off the Plymouth block kept the game alive, but a Smith service error gave Plymouth a 2-0 lead.
In Game 3, Plymouth had runs of 6-0, 5-0 and 6-1 in building a 21-10 lead. Valley would respond with six straight points, which included a two-handed tip from Wagoner and three straight strong serves from Costello. An Emily McGriff kill on a jump ball at the net made it 21-16 and forced Hutton to call timeout.
But a service error and a Jadyn Beran ace made it 23-16, and the match would end five points later on a Christy kill.
Derf later reflected on her relationship with Hutton. Derf started her coaching career at the middle school level when Hutton was the varsity coach.
“Hutton and I go way back,” Derf said. “He was a coach of mine. … He coached me in high school way back. But it’s fun. We have fun with each other, so you always want to beat him.”
Hutton said Derf deserves credit for her own hard work while also praising former Valley coach Mallory Eaton.
“She did, but she was in a different place,” Hutton said when asked if Derf had coaching aspirations dating back to her playing days. “Because I had talked to her about coaching back in the day. She’s always been really passionate. Mallory Eaton is the one that really started to develop her when she was still the head coach and brought her in, and she was running the eighth grade and doing the VBC, the volleyball club stuff. Ashley’s just done a fantastic job. She’s increased her background knowledge and really organized things. She’s really right on top of things.”