You can never be too comfortable in sports. After a loss to perennial contender Palmyra in the first game of the season, the Elizabethtown Area High School girls volleyball team dominated in the next two games, first by sweeping Warwick 3-0 on Tuesday, Sept. 3, followed by another sweep against Solanco in the first Section Two matchup of the year on Thursday, Sept. 5.
But the Lady Bears had to fight to get the victory at home on Tuesday, Sept. 10, against a hungry Manheim Central squad. Despite a spirited effort from the Barons, Elizabethtown emerged unscathed, improving to 3-1 on the season.
“I want my team to know how to win and how to grind out games,” head coach Jenna Griest said. “That was what we did tonight.”
The team first made the long journey to Quarryville for an away tilt at Solanco. Despite the distance, Elizabethtown came out of the gates hot against the Golden Mules, cruising to a 25-10 win in the first set. The Lady Bears did even better in the second, winning 25-9 before taking a 25-12 victory in the third to clinch the victory.
Sophomore Sydney Stewart turned in a balanced performance with 10 kills and 4 service aces, both game highs. Senior Hayden Calaman also led all players with 29 assists. Sophomore Madi Davis played well for Solanco, finishing with 8 digs and 5 assists.
Elizabethtown returned to Daubert Gym a few days later to host Manheim Central, the latter hot off three straight wins to open up the year. The two sides traded points for the majority of the first set; the Barons briefly went up 10-7 early thanks to some mistakes from the Lady Bears, who proceeded to tie it back up immediately.
Some service aces from senior specialist Kierra Hinkle to make the score 19-16 looked to have given Elizabethtown control late in the first set. But Manheim Central hung around, eventually staving off game point to tie it up at 24-24. The Lady Bears came through with the final two points, however, thanks to a Barons error and a precision kill from Stewart, to get the 26-24 win. It was definitely a gut check, especially considering that sophomore powerhouse middle hitter Kallee Locker sat out the set resting an injury; sophomore Autumn Nyesmith (younger sister of senior libero Ashley Nyesmith) admirably took her spot in the rotation.
“I think it was a mix of having to run some different lineups with Kallee out,” Griest said. “We’ve been working her back into playing on the court. She hasn’t been around in practice too much, so it’s just a matter of finding ourselves and being able to communicate on the court, whether she’s in or out. I thought they did a great job of figuring that out in the first set.”
Locker entered the game at the beginning of the second set, immediately providing a spark, though both offenses continued to trade points back and forth. Elizabethtown once again went up 19-16 after some long rallies and eventually pulled away with four straight points at the end, capped by a kill from junior transfer Olivia Hauck, to win 25-19.
“I thought we played really scrappy defense. That’s really what kept us in the match, especially in that second set. Sydney played out of her mind in the backcourt.”
The third set was much like the first two, as each team alternated points early. The largest lead was just two (from Elizabethtown during two separate instances). Tied at 20-20, the Lady Bears powered up and scored five of the last six points to win 25-21 and get the 3-0 sweep, one much closer than their previous games.
“I think that only makes our team stronger, knowing that they had to battle,” Griest said. “They were down, and they came back. That makes a huge difference heading into the rest of section play.”
Stewart was once again the kills leader for Elizabethtown, finishing with 10 overall in addition to an equal number of digs. Locker was second with 8 kills despite her limited time, while Ashley Nyesmith had a game-high 17 digs. Senior McKenna Dare chipped in with 4 kills and 11 digs as well. Hayden Calaman led all players with 29 assists.
For Manheim Central, senior Kalie Zimmerman led the way with 4 kills and 4 blocks. Sophomore Grace Stoltzfus had 11 assists, while fellow senior Tori Henderson had 7 digs.
The win puts Elizabethtown atop the Section Two standings in the Lancaster-Lebanon League, aided by an upset of rival Garden Spot by Ephrata the previous week. The Mounts look dangerous this season, but the Lady Bears and Spartans have been battling with each other for the title the past few seasons. Now that the latter has slipped up a bit, it puts a target firmly on Elizabethtown’s back.
“It’s a big motivation,” Griest said. “But we also know that the section doesn’t just go through Garden Spot. We have L-S, Lebanon and Ephrata before then. We just need to take it one match at a time and not look too far ahead.”
The Lady Bears will have two more Section Two games on tap in their next slate, which consists of a road trip to Lampeter-Strasburg on Thursday, Sept. 12, and a home match vs. Lebanon on Tuesday, Sept. 17. They’ll also compete at Hempfield’s Black Knight Invitational Tournament on Saturday, Sept. 14.