Notre Dame withstands New London's upset big in four-set thriller
Matt LevinsThe Hawk Eye
NEW LONDON -- The Notre Dame High School volleyball team was at the end of its rope.
Pushed to the limit in the first three sets by Class 1A's 10th-ranked New London and two points away from facing a decisive fifth sets, the sixth-ranked Nikes dug deep and found a way to win.
That's what two-time defending state champions do.
Senior Gabby Deery, the reigning Class 1A Player of the Year, put down two kills and senior setter Maddy Mosena had a perfectly-place tip to finally subdue the Tigers in a 32-30, 16-25, 25-20, 25-23 SEI Superconference South Division win in a raucous and rowdy Charles Lorber Gymnasium on Thursday night.
Once again, the Nikes were pushed to the limit. Once again, the Nikes found a way to win.
"This is a hostile environment," Notre Dame head coach Mike Davis said. "They were pressed the whole time. New London doesn't give away easy points. We had to earn them. Once again they came out of nowhere and they shine, but it's not the track record you want to live by. You want to be aggressive and we haven't been. But we're finding ways to win."
"They are very scrappy," Deery said of New London. "They definitely got us out of system, but we were prepared for that. We knew if they got a bad ball that they were scrappy enough to get that ball back over and we needed to prepare for it."
"I've got to hand it to them," said Notre Dame senior middle hitter Abby Korschgen, who had 16 kills. "(New London) is a very good defensive team and offensive team. We knew it was going to be a battle. We knew we had to get the kill, whether it took four, five, six times. If we had to reset, play some defense and send it back over and get the ball over the next time. They are really good. We really had to up our game against them."
It was a performance that took first-year New London coach Jackie Housman back to her playing days. The sheer grit and determination her team put forth left Housman in tears of pride.
"I'm very proud of them," Housman said. "Honestly, a few pivotal mistakes or I think we could have pulled away with it very well. We just need to get some serves in at the right opportunities and I think we can give them a run next time."
A first set for the ages
The opening set determined the tone for the match. It featured seven lead changes, a whopping 14 ties and seven set points.
Notre Dame led by as many as five points and had a 24-23 lead. But Natalie Burden put down a kill to extend the match. It was the first of four straight set points the Tigers staved off.
New London had set points at 28-27 after a kill by Burden and again at 30-29 after another kill by Burden. But a hitting error and a service error prevented the Tigers from taking the all-important first set.
Instead, a pair of kills by Deery gave the Nikes the set and the early momentum.
"I've never been in a set that's lasted to 32 points," Korschgen said. "It was crazy. It was back and forth. We knew we had that set down, we just had to finish. We just have to work on our execution."
"If we don't take that first set, who knows? We're probably in Game 5," Davis said. "They battled hard. We're finding out what we need to get better. We're not there yet. We have to get back in the gym and work on some things."
"I'm very, very proud of them," Housman said. "Our defense is playing phenomenal right now and our offense is putting everything together. We just missed a few serves in a few spots we really needed them in. I think it would have really changed things around a lot."
Tigers get downright defensive
The Tigers' scrappy defense had the Nikes scratching their heads much of the night. At times it seemed like no matter how hard the Nikes hit the ball or where they placed it, a New London player was Johnny on the spot to dig it up and send the ball back over the net.
New London finished the night with an incredible 111 digs, 36 of them by senior all-state libero Emma Nye.
In the first 2 1/2 sets, the Nikes never had a service run of more than one point.
"That team right there ... usually we can score off our serve," Davis said of New London. "They passed the ball and they were swinging it. They were finding holes where we shouldn't be having holes. We've got some things to fix."
"We work on our defense so hard," Housman said. "They do not shy away from any hitter. Deery is an amazing hitter. They don't shy away. They are going to go for it. I thought we were super scrappy tonight. We went after everything, even those ones where you're thinking, 'We're never going to get to it.' We work on that so much. We really, really work on getting to those balls that people don't think we're really going to get to."
Nikes' hitters step up in clutch
With the New London defense keying on Deery -- she still managed 28 kills -- Korschgen, Madalynn Knapp and Aviana West each played perhaps their best matches of the season. The trio combined for 33 kills.
In one stretch of the pivotal third set, Korschgen had three straight kills. Later in the set, she scored three of five points to help the Nikes prevail.
"Abby was huge. She was dominating the net. She put the ball where it needed to be. She really took control up there," Deery said.
"Aviana West came in and had some crucial points for us. It's going to be a total team effort from here on," Davis said. "(Korschgen) and Maddy (Mosena), once they get that timing down 100 percent, look out. She's going to be a beast."
"If one of our other big hitters is in the back row, one of our other hitters has to step up and I did that tonight," Korschgen said. "I was able to fill that role, along with a lot of the younger players. This is a team sport and I think our team played really well together as a unit today."
By the numbers
Kills — Gabby Deery 28, Abby Korschgen 16, Madalynn Knapp 9, Aviana West 8, Taryn Stephens 4, Ava Parkins 1
Assists — Maddy Mosena 59
Serving aces — Parkins 2, Stephens 2, Knapp 1
Blocks — West 4, Deery 1, Korschgen 1, Stephens 1
Digs — Parkins 33, Knapp 19, Stephens 17, Moesna 16, Deery 14, Emily Stutsman 4, Breck McVey 2, Korschgen 2
Kills — Natalie Burden 22, Tysann Gipple 16, Sophie Malott 9, Emma Nye 4, Camryn Lair 4, Elly Manning 3, Morgan Jones 1
Assists — Manning 45, Nye 4, Jones 1
Serving aces — Malott 6, Nye 3, Burden 1
Blocks — Lair 2, Malott 1, Gipple 1
Digs — Nye 36, Jones 22, Manning 19, Malott 17, Burden 14, Gipple 3
Records — Notre Dame 16-3 overall (2-0 SEI Superconference South Division), New London 4-3 (1-1)
Matt Levins is a sports reporter for the USA Today Network in Burlington, Iowa, who has covered local sports for 32 years at The Hawk Eye. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.