OTTAWA – In front of a raucous crowd of Seneca and Marquette fans, Fighting Irish seniors Teagan Johnson and Faith Baker stepped up their volleyball game.
Johnson pounded down a contest-best nine kills, and Baker added six – all in the second set – as Seneca bested its Tri-Country Conference and local rival 25-20, 25-23 Thursday evening at Marquette’s Bader Gym in Ottawa.
“In my senior season, I wanted to get the win over Marquette no matter when or where we play them because of the intense rivalry,” Johnson said. “The environment tonight was really up there, so loud and kept us charged up and inspired. Credit to our fans for showing up tonight and supporting us.”
Baker agreed with her classmate.
“It was great, because winning this rivalry is very important to us, especially in our senior year,” Baker said. “It got crazy and intense at times.”
Seneca (12-5, 3-0 TCC) also received a great effort from Audry McNabb. The junior hammered six kills along with serving 10 points and an ace. Junior Lainie Olson dished up a game-leading 20 assists, while classmate Alyssa Zellers scooped 12 digs that helped lead the Irish to an invigorating triumph.
“A couple of our key players stepped up when it mattered, and overall the whole team played very well, and that’s what it takes to beat a quality, well-coached team like Marquette,” Seneca coach Noah Champene said. “The passing was on point all night from everybody, and we beat a good team on their home court to stay undefeated in our conference so far.”
Marquette (9-3, 2-1 TCC) saw tremendous efforts from junior Makalya Backos (six kills) and freshman Anna Hjerpe (five kills), along with junior Kealey Rick (nine assists) and senior Emma Rinearson (eight digs). But the Crusaders couldn’t string together any prolonged runs to counter the Irish attack.
“It was loud in here for sure tonight, and I give a lot of credit to Seneca for coming in here and taking a big conference game,” Marquette veteran coach Mindy McConnaughhay said. “We struggled with serve-receive and took too long to rally in both sets in order to win a tough match like this.
“But I’m proud of our fight.”
Other than the first two points, Seneca enjoyed the lead from start to finish, breaking out to its biggest lead at 18-11 after a hitting error in the opening set.
Johnson added a pair of left-side kills down the stretch. McNabb and Baker eventually combined for a block on set point that gave the Irish the early advantage.
“That was a great way to start the match, and we knew we could keep things going,” Johnson said.
Seneca did just that, bursting out to a 17-7 lead after all six kills from Baker and a rock-solid, seven-point serving run from McNabb,
“Me and my setter, Lainie Olson, had a conversation after the first game and adjusted to where we needed to go,” Baker said. “Her sets were amazing tonight, especially in the second set. That gave us a great run.”
But the Crusaders weren’t done rallying, crafting a 14-6 charge that closed the gap to 23-21 after three left-side kills from Backos.
“Mikayla [Backos] really played well tonight and kept us in that second set,” McConnaughhay said. “It was too little too late, unfortunately, after trailing by so much early in the game.”
Seneca then received a middle tip-kill from sophomore Tessa Krull and finished the match after two attack errors from Marquette.
“We’re proud of the big win in a great atmosphere for volleyball,” Champene said. “But we’ve got a lot more to do, and we’ll get after it again and hope to improve more tomorrow in practice.”