JACKSON CENTER — Jackson Center’s volleyball team has had plenty of miscues through the first week of the season. But unlike last year, the Tigers are finding ways to win.
Jackson Center earned its second consecutive hard-fought 3-2 win on Saturday with a 15-25, 25-23, 23-25, 25-16, 15-13 victory over Lehman Catholic.
After a tough season-opening road loss to Marion Local on Tuesday, the Tigers (2-1) bounced back with a 3-2 win at Russia on Thursday. They were 1-2 at this point last season on their way to a 1-4 start.
“That’s exactly what we talked about in the locker room, that they are finding ways to stay mentally strong and go the distance,” Jackson Center coach Kim Metz said. “It may not be the prettiest distance, but the mental toughness they were able to show is a big plus. That’s something that, as young in some of the positions as we are, is a bonus.”
It was the first loss of the season for the Cavaliers (3-1).
“The first three games we won, but I didn’t think we played at a very high level,” Lehman coach Greg Snipes said. “It was interesting to see how we would come out against a team like Jackson, and I thought we played at an extremely high level.”
After the Tigers scored the last five points of the fourth set to close out a 25-16 win, the teams traded the lead early in the fifth game.
After a set attempt by Jackson Center went out of bounds, Lehman took a 12-11 lead. After Raquel Kessler had a kill to tie it, Olivia Lucia had a kill to put the Cavaliers ahead again by one.
The Tigers scored the last three points. Kessler had a kill to tie it 13-13, then Katie Clark and Deja Wells combined for a block to give Jackson Center the lead. Lehman sent a ball into the net for the game’s final point.
“They served us aggressively,” Snipes said. “We were kind of limited to one hitter a lot of the time, and they did a good job of setting the block. They knew who we were trying to go to in certain situations and put a nice block up. It was a two-point game, so it could have went either way. It was fun. Fun to see two good volleyball teams play at a level like this early in the season.”
Kessler, a senior outside hitter who is the returning Shelby County Athletic League player of the year, led the team with 17 kills, 28 digs and three aces.
Lehman controlled the match early. The Cavaliers took a 15-5 lead on their way to a 25-15 win in the first game. The Tigers scored four-straight points to take a 10-5 lead in the second set and led 22-17 late. Olivia Lucia had three kills during a big run to help Lehman tie it 22-22.
The Cavaliers took a 23-22 lead after a Jackson Center ball went out-of-bounds. The Tigers scored the next three points, though, including a game-ending kill by Kessler.
“We have to draw off of emotion, and we just were flat (early),” Metz said. “We just could not get anything going. You could definitely tell who had the energy and the passion and the desire. Everything was flowing out of everybody — even the Lehman crowd. They were being a presence in the gym.
“… I honestly do not even think we had momentum in that second set. Lehman was scrappy and getting balls and keeping us out of system and doing everything right.”
The Tigers took a 10-6 lead in the third game, but after a timeout the Cavaliers scored nine of the next 10 points. Jackson Center scored two straight to come within 24-23, but a serving error ended the game.
Those types of errors and miscues are things Metz says need addressed in the coming weeks.
“We’ve really got to work on staying in system, getting the ball and delivering a little bit more,” Metz said. “Season’s young. Everybody’s going to start figuring out what everybody’s doing more, but when were basically tipping the ball, it does make our defense work a heck of a lot harder.”
Snipes said he’s been pleased with how Lehman has played early and with the intensity the players had on Saturday.
“This match especially, they finally showed a lot of fire,” Snipes said. “I would like to see us be a little bit more aggressive in certain situations, but that’s going to improve as our confidence gets better.”
Katelyn Sosby had 22 digs for the Tigers, while Caroline Frieders had 23 assists, nine kills and three aces. Elizabeth Hickey and Clark both had five kills, while Ashley Mullenhour had 13 assists.
Lucia led Lehman with 20 kills and had four blocks. Alexis Snipes had 41 assists and 20 digs, while Lauren McFarland had 11 kills and 32 digs. Reese Geise had 12 kills, Pyper Sharkins had 13 digs and Abby Schutt had four blocks and 19 digs.
Jackson Center hosts Houston on Tuesday in SCAL action while Lehman hosts Marion Local for a nonconference match.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.