LA SALLE – Morris junior Ava Smith prefers a hard-fought match rather than an easy two-set sweep.
She got what she wanted Tuesday.
La Salle-Peru pushed Morris to three sets, but Morris made several big plays down the stretch to pull out a 25-19, 24-26, 25-20 victory in an Interstate 8 Conference match at L-P.
“This was a good game because it’s a lot more fun to win when it’s a good rally instead of easy,” Smith said. “I’d rather win hard than super easy.
“[L-P] is super aggressive and they had really good shots. They had really smart shots down the line and were not just swinging away. They thought about what they’re doing and made sure they were in their spots.
“The key [to our win was] sticking together. A lot of times in difficult, high intensity situations, people get frazzled and want to yell at each other, but this team comes together.”
With the third set tied at 15, Smith put down a kill to give Morris the lead at 16-15.
On the next volley, Smith bumped the ball over on a scramble, and the Cavaliers couldn’t handle it, extending the Morris lead to 17-15 and causing L-P coach Mark Haberkorn to call a timeout.
Out of the break, Smith put down another kill to give Morris an 18-15 lead.
“As you continue to get those points, it really builds confidence,” Smith said.
Morris extended its lead out to 21-16 before L-P called another timeout.
The Cavs made an error after the timeout but then made a push with a kill from Camryn Piscia followed by a ace from Brooklyn Ficek.
After a serve into the net, a double hit by Morris and a block by Addison Urbanski and Olivia Shetterly pulled L-P within 23-20, but a kill by Felicity Emmerich and four hits on L-P gave the match to Morris.
“We had a game [Monday] night, and when you play L-P, you really want to have a practice beforehand because they just do some different things that take you all out of sorts,” Morris coach Scott Howell said. “But we talked before the game, and the girls know when we come here what to expect.
“We got a little bit out of it in the second set, but we gathered ourselves together in the third set and remembered, ‘Oh, we have to watch for tips. We have to move on defense and we have to stay committed to knowing that we can control the ball on our side.’ It was a great game. We made a couple mistakes, but the girls fought hard.”
After dropping the first set, L-P fell behind 4-0 in the second and trailed until a three-point run by Taylor Martyn evened the score at 19.
The set was tied five more times until a net violation on Morris and a tip by Piscia forced the third set.
“We played some of the best volleyball we’ve played all year the last week,” Haberkorn said. “We played great against Kaneland. We played great tonight against Morris. They are first and second in our conference right now. We did everything but finish in set three. It was an exciting match. We executed offensively. Both teams made spectacular plays on defense. It was a regional final type match.”
After losing to Kaneland and Morris in two sets the first time they played, the Cavs took both to three in the second meeting.
“We’re getting better every night,” Haberkorn said. “This is a team that works hard in practice. They play hard. We still haven’t reached our potential.”
For Morris, the win kept it in contention for the conference title at 20-5 overall and 8-1 in conference, while Kaneland is 8-0 in conference.
“Since the beginning of the season, our goal has been conference,” Howell said. “We’re tired of finishing second or third to Sycamore or Kaneland. We played Sycamore well and got them in the first game and we played Kaneland and fought hard in a three-set loss. We’re really excited about being in this position. We have a couple more games before we get to play Kaneland again, and that’s really the focus, but we’re hoping we’re in position for that Kaneland game to show them this is a brand new Morris team that’s ready to compete every year for conference titles.”
Smith led Morris with 15 kills and three aces, while Natalie Lawton put down 10 kills, Hayley Dunne had 19 assists and Kayla Jepson had 21 digs.
For L-P (9-10, 4-5), Piscia had 12 kills and a block, Katie Sowers had 13 assists, nine points, three kills and two blocks and Ficek contributed 19 digs and 15 points.