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Serving, slow start haunts Huskies

LEWISTOWN–Mifflin County stumbled out of the gate, but played tough in its 3-0 loss to Cedar Cliff in a Mid-Penn volleyball match on Wednesday at Mifflin County High School. The Huskies struggled, losing the first set 25-14, but pushed the Colts in the final two sets, falling 25-19 in both.

Mifflin County coach Krystena Mayo wasn’t surprised her team put themselves behind the 8-ball early on–they do it fairly often.

“It seems to be a pattern,” Mayo said. “We, for some reason, come out and need to get in the groove of moving and reading the other team, and I think they struggle with that. Sometimes they get it in their heads that they’re automatically the underdogs, so it’s kind of a mental thing too. We are always slow to start.”

The first set began with Cedar Cliff holding a 3-2 lead before the Colts found their rhythm and ripped off a 10-2 run. Trailing 13-4, the Huskies fought back, but the Colts kept them at bay, as their lead never got smaller than six points.

Two aces by Huskies’ senior Gianna Hoppel bookended two kills by Audrey Jordan, which closed the Colts’ lead to 18-12. Cedar Cliff ended the run and held on to win the first set 25-14.

Despite being outplayed in the first set, the Huskies regrouped nicely and made the second set a back-and-forth affair. Oddly enough, the second set saw eight ties and nine lead changes, but all went in the Colts’ favor as the Huskies never held a lead in the set.

A kill by Hannah Runkel tied the game at six, and a few points later, a kill by Kashia Smith tied the game at 10. The Colts edged ahead, opening up a three point lead, but an unforced error helped the Huskies come back to tie the game at 17.

“We were in the movement of reading them defensively and how they were playing at the net,” Mayo said. “I think that’s where we capitalized a lot more.”

Throughout the entirety of the second set, the Huskies were able to limit the Colts’ play at the net–an area of Cedar Cliff’s game that was dominant in the first set. With the Colts having to sit back and play off of the Huskies’ kills, they weren’t able to be as aggresive at the net.

Sensing the urgency of the game, Cedar Cliff calmed down and refocused, going on a 5-0 run to grab a 22-17 advantage. The Huskies would score two more points, but the Colts closed out the set, winning 25-19.

“We were much better on reading their hitters, so we started to get a lot more touches outside on their No. 23 (Natalie Uibel), who was pretty dominant,” Mayo said about her team’s improvement in the second set. “Just closing blocks and getting touches on her… instead of our girls not getting there or being able to read that.”

The third set began much like the second as both teams scrapped for each point. The set was tied at six before the Colts used consecutive aces to open up a lead, but their sloppy play led to errors, allowing the Huskies to keep it close.

Cedar Cliff reverted back to its early gameplan, using its height advantage to take control of the net. The Colts rattled off a few kills before putting the game away.

The Huskies play at the net improved as the match went on, but they continued to struggled serving, which Mayo cites as a reason why they couldn’t go on any extended runs.

“Serving is what killed us, for the most part,” Mayo said. “We had talked about their hitters, mostly No. 23 (Uibel). She dominated on the outside and the right side when she got a couple of chances. We talked about that in the huddle, that we have to take that away from them. That’s something that we really work on with our blockers.”

Despite the 3-0 loss, the vastly improved play in the second and third sets showed the growth that the Huskies have displayed throughout the season. Playing in the Mid-Penn with many already-established programs, Mifflin County is trying to find its footing, and Wednesday’s match was a step in the right direction.

“We don’t have the big, built-up programs that a lot of the teams in the Mid-Penn do,” Mayo said. “We look at out point differential and we are closing the gap like we haven’t before against these bigger teams. That’s what we work on–closing the gap. Sure, it’s a loss, but how we are progressing within those sets is what we focus on.”

Mifflin County hosts Central Mountain today at 6 p.m.

Cedar Cliff 3, Mifflin County 0

Game scores: 25-14, 25-19, 25-19.

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