In the middle of the second set Tuesday night, Abraham Lincoln and Sioux City East were locked in a nip-and-tuck tussle of Class 5-A ranked volleyball teams. Black Raider junior outside hitter Lineya Wells had just hammered a kill off of the A.L. block to put East up 13-12.
A phenomenal defensive get by the Lynx on the very next point turned the tide, and became the epitome of the A.L. success in a 25-18, 25-15, 25-16 sweep of the No. 15 ranked Black Raiders at the Abraham Lincoln Fieldhouse.
The Lynx showcased stellar defensive play, led by senior Taylan Keefer.
“We all blend so well together, and we just know whose ball is whose,” Keefer said. “We have a lot of confidence.”
A.L coach Katie Darrington said her team’s defensive philosophy is simple.
“Our big philosophy is we don’t let it hit our floor,” she said. “We’re so athletic. We tell them all the time, just use your athleticism and run through balls.”
Keefer picked up her 1,000th career dig (she had 19 on the night) in that pivotal second set.
“I knew that I was really close. I walked up to Sam (Christiansen) right before I got that last dig, and said, ‘Sam, I know I’m one away’,” Keefer said. “As soon as I got that dig everyone cheered and I got so happy and excited.”
Nothing Keefer does surprises her coach.
“Not only does she make huge plays, and digs, she also runs the defense back there,” Darrington said. “I’ve said this since Tay was a freshman, it’s like having a coach out on the court. She’s just so smart.”
Darrington’s coach on the floor made the match-changing adjustments in the critical moments of the second set moving blockers and forcing Wells, East’s most potent outside hitter, to adjust.
“In the middle of the second set is when we had our block timing down and we were digging everything,” Keefer said.
Do Keefer’s teammates feed off of her defensive play in the back?
“Yeah, just a little bit,” she said with a smile. “I think that if I get lots of digs, then they’ll all want to get lots of digs.”
Each team had its moments early in the match. The Lynx built an early 12-8 lead, just to see East come back and win five of six points to tie the set at 13. A beautiful Christiansen tip put the Lynx up 14-13, and they took the lead for good on a perfect Elaina Bohnet redirect at 15-14.
The Lynx, paced by Bohnet and Jillian Shanks who each had five kills in the first set, capitalized on Christiansen’s precision setting as she collected 12 set assists.
Along with stellar defensive play, the tone in the second was set by Kayla Schleifman and Baylie Girres. Following a weekend of play at Southeast Polk, Darrington said they wanted to get Schleifman more involved, especially on the back-side set.
“Boy, Sam (Christiansen) and her (Schleifman) connected real well tonight,” Darrington said. “Not only is Kayla hitting harder than she has in past years, she’s placing balls and being smarter with it and seeing the floor.”
Schleifman finished the second set with six of her eight kills on the night.
And, Girres? She was a force from the service line, winning five consecutive points on her serve in the crucial moments of the set.
“That serve is nasty, aint it?” Darrington said. “She’s just a hard working kid. She’s starting to really recognize that force she can bring.”
The Lynx won 14 points on the Girres serve throughout the match.
The third point of what was ultimately the final set summarized the evening for the Black Raiders. Already ahead 2-0 in the set, Wells (who finished the night with a match-high 12 kills) took a swing to go up 3-0. The ball sat perilously on the top of the net before falling harmlessly on East’s side.
A.L. won long rally after long rally in a demoralizing set for East. Behind the serve of Girres, and Bohnet’s five kills, the Lynx were able to finish the match in style.
“I was glad we responded tonight,” Darrington said. “I was not expecting a sweep.”
Keefer said when the Lynx play defense like they did Tuesday night, the frustration mounts for their opponents.
“We know that once they get nothing down that we’re frustrating them,” she said.
The seventh-ranked Lynx tasted defeat for the first time over the weekend at a tournament at Southeast Polk, but Darrington was pleased with her team’s effort Tuesday evening.
“This weekend we got a little gun shy playing Des Moines,” she said. “We talk a lot about, do you only want to be Southwest Iowa good? They know what we mean by that, and they want that next step. I’m proud of tonight.”
The Lynx are back in action Saturday at a tournament in Red Oak.
SCE (9-4) 18 15 16
AL (11-2) 25 25 25