OTTAWA – By putting up a huge block at the net in Bader Gym on Thursday night, the Marquette Crusaders may have put up a roadblock — at least a temporary one — to Woodland’s hope for a Tri-County Conference regular-season championship.
In a clash of league undefeateds, the Crusaders used aggressive serving to take leads in each game, but it was their blocking and block coverage against the ever-feisty Warriors that allowed them to maintain those leads and come away with a 25-17, 25-21 victory.
Mary Lechtenberg collected five blocks, Avery Durdan and Lilly Craig contributed three apiece and Eva McCallum two to go with eight kills to make those short but decisive service runs by Kaylee Killelea in the first set and Maera Jimenez in the second stand up for the hard-fought decision.
The verdict leaves Marquette 13-4 overall and a perfect 4-0 in the Tri-County. The Warriors, no slouch on the defensive side themselves, fall to 14-3, 3-1.
“The blocking was absolutely awesome, and our coverage on blocking defense was tremendous tonight,” Marquette coach Mindy McConnaughhay said. “Going into this game, we knew Woodland was scrappy and the ball was gonna be coming back, so we tried to focus on where their defense was going to be placing the ball against us, and it worked out really well for us.
“We served hard, because that’s the only way you’re going to get them out of system. They’re a great team, coming in 14-2 and undefeated in conference, and they’re that for a reason. They’re so strong defensively — and that’s what got them back in it in the second set — so you have to try and take that option away from them, and tonight things worked out in our favor.
“I’m so happy for our girls.”
With the first set tied 8-8, a Woodland error and two Maisie Lyons points put MA in front. Later, a Killelea sideout kill and three service points opened up a 15-10 lead. The Warriors climbed back within three points three times before another error and a Durdan slam closed out the game.
In the next set, an ace by Cloee Johnston moved the visitors within 7-6, but a tip kill and then five service points by by Jimenez gave Marquette some separation. Suddenly, their aggressive serving and hitting started to go awry, thanks in large part to the defense led by Johnston, Emma Highland and Shae Simons. A Cru sideout error and four points by Simons brought Woodland back even at 16.
It was 19-19 when a service error and a Lindsey Kaufmann ace gave the Cru a two-point lead, one that three times was cut to just one by sideout kills by Clara Downey, Malayna Pitte and Kaleigh Benner.
But finally, and perhaps fittingly, a block by Lechtenberg and Durdan on a slam by Highland finished off the match.
“That was an awesome match, so awesome,” Woodland coach Michelle Pitte said. “Our defense worked very hard, and I appreciate them leaving everything out on the floor tonight. This team has been phenomenal this year, and I couldn’t ask for anything more than they’re giving me.
“Marquette has a tough front line. … We’ve been working all week on blocks, our coverage and playing our game, and really, there’s nothing you can do except be where you’re supposed to be. The block tonight, we had been doing well on it all week, but I don’t know what we were off on tonight. We’ll work on that and come back stronger there, too.
“Coming into this, we knew it was going to be a tough match, both of us undefeated in the conference, but I’ll take what these girls gave me tonight. We’ll learn from it and come back stronger next week.”