Toppers Stay Atop of the Hill
September 22, 2022 by Haley Adams

Coming into Thursday night, Chardon was riding a nine-game win streak, while its conference rival, Kenston had won seven of its last 10 games to start the season, both teams undefeated in conference play.

Match photos click here.

Coming into Thursday night, Chardon was riding a nine-game win streak, while its conference rival, Kenston had won seven of its last 10 games to start the season, both teams undefeated in conference play.

It was the Bombers who started strong coming into The Barn. Junior outside hitter Rachel Lechak scored the first points of the evening, recording a kill off the block. Junior outside hitter Skylar Toth looked to exchange kills of her own, but couldn’t connect with senior setter Annabel Frieden, giving their opponent a two-point lead.

The first points awarded to the home team came from a hitting error from outside the Bombers’ Riley Rosneck, who would return the favor when a tip went down for a kill, extending her team’s lead to 3-1.

The teams exchanged points most of the first set. Finally, Chardon Head Coach Alison Fisher called her first timeout at 17-15, her team trailing by two after an ace from Maria Insana.

Out of the timeout, junior outside hitter Emma McCartney picked up her second kill of the set at 17-16, and a double called against Kerchenski gave the ball back to the Hilltoppers to knot things up at 17.

A hitting error by Amstutz gave the Hilltoppers their first lead of the night, but after giving up three straight points, Chardon was forced to call its final timeout, down 21-19.

Out of timeout, the Hilltoppers forced a hitting error, followed by a double block by Natalie Zemba and Frieden. The set was tied up again at 23 when Kenston Head Coach Christian Jolley chose to take his first timeout of the set.

Once a timid and emotionless middle blocker, Zemba felt like the timing was right to put the team on her back and give them set point number one. The Bombers used their final timeout before junior middle blocker Emma Brownfield connected with her setter and forced extra points in set one.

A block recorded by Brownfield and sophomore Sadie Poudevigne, followed by a hitting error by the Hilltoppers, gave the Bombers the first set win, 27-25.

After set two, I told my team to stay calm,” Zemba said. “When we get all fidgety, that’s when we go all over the place. I’m a very calm player; I wanted to rub that off on my teammates. I was animated to help pick my teammates up.”

Riley and Maria are our anchors offensively and defensively,” Jolley said. “They have the ability to keep us in games and we are always more comfortable offensively when we know Riley is there as an option. Maria is a senior leader and has a really good eye for the game; she’s someone I really trust to make decisions and adjustments when we need to.

We have a really deep team even though we are young. Avari Amstutz started in the middle, and Raygynn Pampush came off of the bench to give us a spark, both being freshmen I know I can rely on when needed. Peyeton Pampush is also someone who can be a huge piece for us; she’s able to play anywhere on the court and has the ability to take over a game if she needs to.”

Zemba stayed hot with back-to-back kills to start the second set. After a kill by Rosneck, and a service point won by Amstutz, the Bombers went on a 6-0 run, forcing the Hilltoppers to a call a timeout at 8-2. Frieden and Zemba connected on a kill out of the timeout, giving their team a desperate point.

At 15-7, Fisher could sense her team in some trouble, and called her second and final timeout of the set. A block by Brownfield and Raygynn Pampush ended the second set, 25-14. The Bombers now led the match 2-0, with the Hilltoppers on their heels.

As the coach, I really tried to help them shift their mindset, because at this point we had nothing to lose and everything to gain,” Fisher said.

The first point of the third set was awarded to the Bombers after a kill off the block for Pampush. McCartney would record her first kill of set three before a service error stopped the Hilltoppers’ run. An early timeout came from the Bombers after Zemba added another kill to her stat line.

This time, it was the home team that picked apart the defense for Kenston. McCartney picked up another kill, forcing the Bombers to call their last timeout, and it felt like the Bombers could never get their offense going. They dropped set three, 25-14.

The atmosphere at Chardon is always tough, but I feel like we were prepared for that and handled it well,” said Jolley. “In terms of dropping the third set, I knew it would be tough and we would get everything Chardon had the next two. I never felt like we were out of it, but being on the road and not closing when you have a chance makes it difficult.”

Junior outside hitter Emma McCartney picked up right where she left off in set three to begin set four. Behind McCartney and some Bombers miscues, Jolley would take another early timeout, trailing 9-4. The Bombers cut the deficit to three midway through the fourth set, returning the favor of Chardon’s timeout.

Brownfield and Poudevigne combined for a block before the Hilltoppers recorded back-to-back hitting errors and a setting error, tying the set at 15. But the team didn’t panic. Toth notched two kills, giving assistance to her team and extending their lead to 19-16.

Out of the timeout, Frieden found a hole on the Bombers’ defense before giving the ball to teammate McCartney, who recorded another ace of the evening. Frieden ended the set with a kill of her own, tying the match at two games, and the Hilltoppers took set four, 25-18.

The fifth set was a race to five. Chardon struck first with a kill out of the middle by Zemba. Combined for a double block, Frieden and Zemba gave their team a 2-0 lead. A hitting error and a serve receive would put the Bombers in an uncomfortable situation, so Jolley called a timeout. And a controversial call giving a four-point advantage to the home team, and another kill for McCartney, gave Jolley had no chance but to call his last timeout at 10-6.

Nine hitting errors were recorded for the Bombers, and would eventually give Chardon match point at 14-9. Fisher talked things over with her team at 14-10 after the Bombers scored on two straigh possessions.

Out of the timeout, Rosneck scored, and a setting error by the Hilltoppers pulled the Bombers within two. A kill recorded by Toth ended the set, 15-12, and the match, 3-2.

Leading the way for the Hilltoppers was McCartney, who recorded 23 kills on 54 swings. Frieden dished out 44 assists, a team-high. Toth added 12 kills, while Zemba finished with 10.

Junior libero Grace Legan finished with a team-high three aces and held the back row down with 19 digs. McCartney and Toth picked up 17, while Frieden finished with 15. The Hilltoppers added 10 blocks at the net.

Thursday night showed the heart and grit my team has,” said Fisher. “To be able to come back after losing the first two sets shows what we are made of as a team.

To make the mindset switch they did and come together, as opposed to splintering and falling apart, is not an easy feat. This match was critical to one of our team goals this season, so to be able to rally back for the win, and to do this on our home court in front of a home crowd, was awesome. This win is a big confidence boost for my team because they have proven to themselvesthat it’s never too late to count them out for the win.

The teams square off again Oct. 11 at Kenston. If the Bombers want a repeat of last year’s Western Reserve Conference title, Jolley and team understand that every game matters.

We know we need to win out in the conference to keep the hope of at least sharing a title alive,” Jolley said. “That being said, we are focused on the next game and preparing for the postseason. Our schedule is much tougher this year, with our non-conference teams, and that was purposeful in order to give us the best chance in the postseason.

While we are definitely focused on competing for the WRC, we are working on getting better each game so that we are prepared for both the conference and what comes after that.”