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Indians fall in three sets to Lions

MIFFLINTOWN–The Juniata Indians played better than the scoreboard indicated in their home 3-0 loss to Northern Dauphin Christian School in a non-conference volleyball match on Tuesday. The Indians held late leads in the first and third sets, but had trouble finishing points and couldn’t hold on.

Coach Susan Paden admitted her team’s struggles but decided to focus on the positives she saw on the court.

“We feel really good about what happened,” Paden said about holding the lead for a majority of two sets. “It just shows that you need to finish points, or they can catch up right away.”

The first set was all Juniata early on. The Indians jumped out to a quick 6-0 lead and look poised to roll to an easy victory. After the Lions clawed back and cut the Juniata lead to 8-7, the Indians went on another solid run to keep the Lions at bay and take a 16-10 lead.

Northern Dauphin Christian called a timeout and whatever coach Danny Evans said to his girls got through to them because they came out of the break looking like a different team.

The Lions caught Juniata off-guard and rallied to close the gap considerably and eventually tie the set at 23. Juniata’s Mackenzie Bennett set a perfect ball to Jordan Taylor who finished the play with the kill, putting the Indians one point away from ending the Lions’ comeback.

Northern Dauphin Christian’s Makenzie Shoop was a force at the net, blocking Juniata kills while firing back shots of her own. Shoop tied the game at 25 with a kill and after taking a one-point lead, the Lions won the set 27-25 as Juniata’s Alexea Frontz’ kill went into the net.

“I think we got a little over-confident,” Paden said about Juniata in the first set. “It’s sometimes tough to realize how fast that gap can close between points. We got over-confident and lost sight of the end goal.”

The stunning loss clearly impacted the Indians who lost the fire that they had for most of the first set. Their communication wasn’t as loud and their enthusiasm had left. The second set was all Lions as they quickly handed the Indians a 25-15 loss.

At one point in the second set, the Indians trailed 21-9, but they regrouped and started playing like a team again, going on a late run to close the gap.

Paden did not want to use the result of the first set as an excuse for the poor play that followed, but she acknowledged that it played a factor in the loss in the second set.

“Our confidence went from being way high to way down,” Paden said. “At that point it was a mental game and that’s what our girls need to work on–their mental toughness.”

To keep the match alive, the Indians needed to put the first two sets behind them and win the third set. They started off on the right foot, jumping out to a 5-2 lead.

The Lions fought back, tying the game at seven. Shoop was taking over the set once again before the Indians stepped up and challenged her at the net. Instead of letting Shoop hammer down another kill, Taylor and Jordan Hockenberry met Shoop at the net, blocked her kill as Shoop hit the ground hard.

The play seemed to give the Indians a much needed jolt as the block got a huge reaction from the fans and Juniata’s sideline.

“We knew that it was going to be a threat,” Paden said about Northern Dauphin using their height to take over play at the net. “Yesterday in practice we practiced our blocks, and it showed. They really showed up today and the practice paid off.”

With their new approach, the Indians took a 20-14 lead and looked to close out the set.

The Indians gave the ball back to the Lions and Shoop delivered two service aces to cut the lead to 20-17. The Lions tied the game at 21 and it was deja vu for the Indians. Despite Juniata recovering for a 23-21 lead, the Lions finished the comeback, and the sweep, topping the Indians, 25-23.

The Indians did get some solid performances across the board, like Bennett who tallied 10 assists and had 19 serves. Frontz led the team with six kills and Jordan Hockenberry led the team with 12 digs. Imarilis Mercado, Jasmine Hockenberry and Katie Miller had nine, seven and five kills, respectively.

Juniata hosts Midd-West today.

Even with the crushing loss, Paden expects the Indians to use this as stepping stone to improve over the course of the season.

“A lot of good things happened in this game and I think it’s gonna fuel our fire for the rest of the season,” Paden said.

Northern Dauphin Christian 3, Juniata 0

Set scores: 27-25, 25-15, 25-23

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