Facing the talented state-ranked Tuscarawas Central Catholic Saints is daunting enough when you’re on your game.
When a young and improving Hiland Lady Hawks team went to New Philadelphia to face the Saints in volleyball Tuesday, Oct. 11, it seemed to have all of the cards stacked against it, and that led to a very convincing TCC win by a score of 25-14, 25-11, 25-17.
The troubles for Hiland started before they even got to TCC, and they got worse when they hit the floor.
“We faced a lot of difficulties tonight, and that made for a pretty rough evening,” Hiland coach Adri Bryk said following the loss.”
The first difficulty was the loss of setter Kim Miller. Miller has been an integral part of the Lady Hawks current rise, but she came up with an ankle injury during Hiland’s last game.
Bryk said junior varsity setter Nikki Keim, along with Sydney Yoder and Katelyn Hershberger, created a three-headed setting attack that Bryk said did an admirable job under the circumstances.
The second obstacle was the opponent itself. Tuscarawas Central Catholic is steamrolling everyone in the Inter-Valley Conference, and at 19-2, with its two losses coming to bigger division powers, the Saints are a formidable foe.
Add to the mix that it was senior night for the Saints, and the emotions were pushed to high for TCC, making it all that much more difficult for Hiland to compete.
Finally, the last obstacle was Hiland itself, which couldn’t seem to string a lot together due to an inconsistent serve-receive effort that allowed the Saints to score 19 points in the three games.
That was the recipe for a short night for Hiland.
“We were frustrated with our serve-receive errors all night,” Bryk said. “The whole game they haunted us, and you can’t give away points to a team like that. It is hard enough to compete when you play well. We didn’t play well.”
While Hiland did put together some decent runs and hung around at times, this one was pretty much all Saints.
Leading game one 18-13, TCC went on a 6-0 run to blow that one open, led by the play of Brooke Beamer and Alexis Gilland.
In game two, TCC rushed out to a quick 7-1 lead led again by Alexis Gilland’s big kills. Sydney Gilland and Dominick then began taking control and Hiland never really got back into the game, trailing by double figures throughout.
Game three appeared to be on the same course, as Katie Churilla served up an ace, and Dominick and Molly Triplett both recorded kills and TCC led 4-0. Hiland came storming back, tying things at 4-4 with Madisynn Bryk and Brooke Stutzman getting kills. Stutzman’s big hit got Hiland to within 7-6 moments later after TCC had surged ahead, but the Saints then went on an 8-1 run that featured a number of Hiland miscues.
Now trailing 15-7, Hiland found some resolve and began coming back again. Madison Yoder followed up a kill with a huge block of a Sydney Gilland kill attempt, and suddenly Hiland had got it back to within 15-12.
But with a Sydney Gilland kill and a pair of scores from Alexis Gilland, TCC went back up by six at 18-12.
Again Hiland fought back, getting a kill from Bryk and a Nikki Overholt kill, and when Amanda Yoder scored a well-placed kill, Hiland trailed just 20-16.
But the talented Saints wouldn’t break, and led by Gillson’s three scores, pulled away for the win.
“We got some nice play across the net,” TCC head coach Michelle Gilland said of her team’s effort. “With this being senior night, we had all six out our seniors play a lot, and five of them have been playing together since seventh grade, so it was nice to see them get the opportunity to be out there together.”
Gilland said the front row has been dominant all season, with Sydney and Alexis Gilland, Abbi Gillson and Maggie Dominick headlining a deep and talented group. However, Gilland noted that the search for consistency at the setter position has been an ongoing task throughout the year, as several players have stepped in and played that role.
“We have been working a bunch of different setters, and if we can get that figured out, I think we will be even better,” Gilland said. “Not that they haven’t done a good job. We just need to tighten things up a bit, and I think we will. We have changed some things, and right now I think we are playing as well as we have all season, so it feels like we are in a good place going toward the tournament run.”
Now at 9-10, Hiland has completely turned around a season of struggles early on, going 8-4 over the past 12 games. That is encouraging for Bryk, as she watches her young team improve with each outing, the TCC loss aside.
“We’ve come a long way this season, and we put ourselves in a good place as the tournament season gets here,” Bryk said. “Hopefully we get Kim back to full health. It wasn’t a bad sprain, but we need her to play up to the way we are capable in the tournament.”