SIDNEY — Riverside’s volleyball team is on a roll and looking to compete for the Three Rivers Conference title while Lehman Catholic is looking for improvement from a youthful squad.
The state of both teams was evident when they met in their first-ever TRC match on Thursday at Schlater Family Gymnasium. The Pirates struggled early and lost the first game 25-14 but battled back to win the next three 25-14, 25-15, 25-21 to win the match.
“We are working on mental toughness; that’s one of our goals for the year,” first-year Riverside coach Candice Woods said. “I have a lot of girls playing different positions they’re not used to, and they’re still trying to figure out leadership within the team.”
Like Lehman, Riverside is fairly inexperienced, with four letterwinners back from last season’s 21-3 squad. Among the losses to graduation was Northwest Central Conference player of the year Lauryn Sanford.
The youthfulness showed early as the Pirates (6-3, 4-0 TRC) lost three close matches the first week of the season to Jackson Center, Urbana and Fairlawn, all of which have at least five wins apiece.
They’ve won five straight since, including four victories in TRC play. They’re in the early hunt for the inaugural TRC title, along with Miami East and Covington, which are also unbeaten in league play.
“We didn’t know what to expect,” Woods said of competing for a TRC title. “Every team we play is new and a surprise. Except for Lehman; we knew they would be a fight.”
Senior middle blocker/outside hitter Jenna Woods had amassed a TRC-best 114 kills entering Thursday’s match and ranked second with 29 blocks. Woods, who is 5-foot-11, also ranked second in digs (92). She became the program’s career assists blocks leader on Thursday.
“She’s a dominant player,” Candice Woods, who is Jenna’s mother, said. “She just has to stay focused and have mental toughness.”
Senior middle blocker/outside hitter Sasha Stotler (6-4) had amassed 84 kills and 27 blocks entering Thursday. She’s playing volleyball again after having left the program midway through her sophomore season and skipping her junior year.
Stotler sees a lot of playing time in the back row for the Pirates, and Woods said she’s a strong leader and helps keep the team focused.
“She’s been working a lot in the offseason,” Woods said. “She’s stepped in and helped (fill Sanford’s roles) pretty well.”
Junior setter Alaina Snow had 191 assists to her credit as of Thursday along with 70 digs and a team-high 24 aces. Junior outside hitter Jade Copas had 88 digs while Stotler had 65.
Woods had 12 kills, five blocks and 14 digs on Thursday while Stotler had 12 kills, eight blocks, two aces and seven digs. Copas had 16 kills, four kills and three blocks and Snow had 24 assists, 17 digs and two aces.
Lehman built a big early lead in the first set and cruised to victory, but the Pirates took big early leads in the next three and never looked back. The Cavaliers pulled as close as three points in the fourth set, but a couple of late errors helped Riverside reclaim the momentum and clinch the victory.
The two squads had been NWCC rivals and had won three of the conference’s last five titles before leaving to join the TRC in all sports at the beginning of this school year. Their 2019 and 2020 matchups determined the NWCC title.
“This is a big rivalry. It seems like we’re always meeting for a championship, even in junior high,” Woods said. “They get a little bit extra excited and a little bit extra sassy. They look forward to this game almost more than any other.”
Thursday’s loss was the fourth in a row for Lehman (2-8, 1-3). The Cavaliers returned most of their varsity players from last year but lost middle hitter Reese Geise to graduation. Geise accounted for 467 of the squad’s 812 total kills last season.
“We’re still pretty young and inexperienced,” third-year Lehman coach Carolyn Dammeyer said. “We’re struggling a little bit with consistency. I saw a lot of bright spots tonight. We improved a lot from (a 3-1 loss at Bethel on Tuesday).
“I’ve got a lot of freshman and sophomores playing who are going from junior high to varsity. It’s been a learning experience for all of them. But I’m seeing improvement, and I’m happy with that.
“… We jumped out to a pretty good game that first game (Thursday), but we just had a lot of unforced errors after that. I just think that’s the youth in them.”
Sophomore outside hitter Taylor Geise had amassed a team-high 60 kills entering Tuesday’s match. Senior middle blocker Kate Stewart had racked up 39 kills and 38 blocks, while sophomore middle blocker Marissa Corner and freshman middle blocker Layla Platfoot each had gathered 23 blocks.
Lehman had amassed 135 blocks before Thursday’s game.
“We’ve been pretty good with blocking,” Dammeyer said. “The three girls I have rotating in the middle have been blocking pretty well. Tonight was probably one of our better blocking nights.”
Riverside is scheduled to play next on Saturday when it hosts Houston, while Lehman is scheduled to travel to Jackson Center on Saturday.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.