Washington Evening Journal
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Washington, IA 52353
PACKWOOD — Area volleyball fans may think that the undefeated run Winfield-Mount Union made last year to the Southeast Iowa Super Conference North Division championship was a one-time occurrence because of the seven seniors that graduated. While WMU lost two outside hitters, a libero and setter fans should not be too quick to judge what effect a new season will have.
The Wolves return two starters, have talented sophomores and every intention of defending their title.
“You can’t think that in advance,” WMU coach David Pieart said. “We’re only playing one game at a time.”
That worked well Thursday when the Wolves blitzed Pekin 3-0.
“Pekin thought we graduated everybody but Pekin is wrong about that,” Pieart said. “I know we have a ton of talent."
The visiting Wolves were more disciplined in their positioning on the court, controlled play and took the first set 25-8. Pieart attributed that to experience. “I thought our serving was very good, our defense was digging balls and our offensive efficiency was very good.” Aurey Meeker landed five aces. Keetyn Townsley had eight digs. Bradie Buffington had 10 kills.
Pekin head coach Rusty Crabtree still is in the process of forming and building his Panthers. “We showed how young we are (Thursday), but we will continue to grow and gain experience as the season progresses. I fully expect this team to be completely different by the end of the season.”
Pekin came alive in the second set behind Taylor Gambell (six assists, two aces in the match), Kyli Fitzsimmons (three kills, block, ace) and Claire Roth (four digs, two kills, block, ace). Trailing by as many as 10 points, the Panthers closed to within 18-13 before losing 25-14.
The Panthers took a 5-2 lead in Set 3. The visitors tied it up at five, six, and seven. Crabtree then called a timeout. “We are going through growing and rebuilding pains. We are trying to learn how to compete as a team on a consistent basis and how to continue to stay positive and motivated, even when things are not going our way.”
Keely Malone served an ace, Lilly Freeman hit a kill and it was another timeout at 15-8. Carlee Sloan’s kill and back-to-back blocks by Melina Oepping and Morgan Grelk put the set at match point.
“We have been working on our blocking because we are hoping to take advantage of our height, since we’re a bit taller than last year,” Pieart said.
Audrie Gipple served every WMU point from 14 to 24 and was 18-for-18 on the night. “That was good to see her being able to step up because she is one of the new starters,” Pieart said. “Melina is having a great stat to the season.” Oepping registered four digs, three kills, two blocks, an ace and an assist.
Two kills by Kayse Miller brought the Panthers up to 24-11. Pekin hit out of bounds to end the match.
“We hope for that kind of serving but I don’t know that you can ever expect someone to go on a nine or 10 point run,” Pieart said. "Both of our sophomore outsides are getting more and more confidence."
WMU is 4-3, 1-0 North and plays at Wapello Tuesday. Pekin is 2-3, 0-1 and plays at Columbus Tuesday.