Defense Doesn’t Rest For Dragons

Maple Grove's Maddy Russo (4) and Courtney Hemminger (3) put up a double block against Chautauqua Lake. P-J photo by Lisa Monacelli

Maple Grove volleyball currently sits at 14-1 in the Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Athletic Association South Division and 18-1 overall, and with the way they played against visiting Chautauqua Lake on Wednesday evening it’s easy to see why.

After losing a five-set classic to defending Class D state champion Panama for their only loss of the season, the Lady Red Dragons have only looked better and better, cruising to a 25-23, 26-24, 25-11 win over the Lady Thunderbirds (8-3, 8-3).

While coach Bayley Johnson’s team has ramped up its offense to new heights this season, it was the defensive play of her team that was the standout last night.

“Bayley has done a great job with them, so not only are they so much better offensively than they have been in forever, but it is hard to get a ball to hit the ground against them,” said Chautauqua Lake coach Joanne Meadows. “I mean, its frustrating when we are hitting hard against them and nothing hits the ground and I think that is the tough thing for my kids. They feel like they are playing well offensively, and they actually are, but nothing hits the ground over there and it keeps coming back. And we knew going in that’s what it was going to be like.”

While the three-set victory tells one story, the Lady Red Dragons actually began the night fighting for a lead in the opening frame after being stricken with an extra hit penalty, a spike that fell wide, a long serve and a spike that found the net as Chautauqua Lake broke out to a 6-2 lead.

Chautauqua Lake’s Olivia Anderson delivers a spike. P-J photo by Lisa Monacelli

That was followed up by a kill from Bryanna Davis and an ace by Olivia Anderson to maintain the Lady Thunderbirds’ lead, but Maple Grove never lost focus and returned fire with a one-handed finish and a service ace from Alyssa Steen to keep things close.

The Lady Red Dragons’ first lead of the night came at 16-15, thanks to a block and some stellar hitting on the left sideline by sophomore Bre Hill.

Chautauqua Lake’s lead returned at 20-19 after Maddy Harle made two brilliant defensive saves and Abbie Henry finished the point off with a tip winner. In the end, however, back-to-back missed spikes by the Lady Thunderbirds sealed the opener for the hosts.

“They played really well. You know they’re working hard,” said Johnson of her team. “Chautauqua Lake is a great-coached team and they are a very nice team. But I knew some things that we needed to do and (we) came out and worked hard and executed, so I was proud of that.”

Things remained close between the two teams early in the second set as well, with Anderson notching a pair of blocks for Chautauqua Lake and Maple Grove’s Maddy Russo countering with three straight kills to put her team up 12-7.

Maple Grove’s Olivia Pembridge sets up a teammate during a CCAA South Division volleyball match against Chautauqua Lake on Wednesday. P-J photo by Lisa Monacelli

Along with kills from teammates Hill and Maddie Welsh, as well as a bevy of assists by Olivia Pembridge, Russo’s offensive play in the middle portion of the second half pushed the Lady Red Dragons to two different six-point leads.

While Chautauqua Lake did what it could to shrink those leads, Maple Grove’s defense simply refused to relent, even in the face of hard-struck shots.

“Maddy Russo is a great defender,” Johnson said of her senior outside hitter. “She’s doing what she needs to. She’s in the right spots and she’s doing a nice job.”

In the end it was another kill by Russo and some miscommunication on the part of Chautauqua Lake that gave Maple Grove the 26-24 win.

Adding to the prolific defensive play of the Lady Red Dragons was Wirsen, who would end the night with a team-high 10 digs.

Another hot start by Russo in the third frame and some missed opportunities by the visitors gave Maple Grove the lead at 10-4, at which point the senior picked up two more winners while Alyssa Seeley headed to the service line to help in maintaining the margin.

A kill by Welsh and a service ace from Madigan Howard were the final points of the evening for the hosts.

“Right now we just take one game at a time. We look at every team that we’re going to play and what we need to do, but I’m hoping for us to keep working hard and keep making progress,” Johnson said. “My middle, Maddie Welsh, is doing a good job at the net. She’s worked every practice to get better at that.”

The Lady Dragons will now look to maintain their near-perfect record on Friday at home against Clymer, while Chautauqua Lake will take on the Lady Pirates next Wednesday on the road.

NOTES: Pembridge finished with 28 assists. … Russo had 16 kills and four aces. … Welsh added 11 kills and two blocks. … Bre Hill collected seven kills. …. Cameryn Hawkins led the Chautauqua Lake defense with 18 digs as well as one ace and three kills. … Bryanna Davis notched 10 digs and one block for the Lady Thunderbirds. …Anderson finished with nine kills, two aces, nine digs and three blocks.