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Girls Volleyball: Munster rebounds with win over La Porte

La PORTE -- The athletic bloodlines are strong in the Melby family. So is the competition gene.

With parents who were Division I athletes and older brothers whose playing careers also took them to the collegiate level, Haley Melby almost seemed destined for success in sports.

"We've always worked really hard in the family," the Munster junior said. "I wanted to show my brothers that I can stay up with them."

Mom Dianna (Wingis) starred in basketball at Northern Illinois, dad Bill played football at The Citadel, brother Joseph did the same at Indiana State and brother Will is at Iowa Western for baseball. In two years, Haley will be headed to Iowa for volleyball.

"Go Hawks!" she said. "I'm really excited."

The 6-foot-1 Melby, whose club team is the Chicago-based Michio, committed to the Hawkeyes in March of her freshman year, and her resounding 20-kill performance in Thursday's four-game (25-21, 25-23, 17-25, 25-16) win over La Porte showed why she drew Big Ten interest at such a young age.

"Me and my setter Marina (Gronkiewicz), we've been working really hard on getting a connection and this was like the first time we had complete trust in each other," Melby said. "She was putting the ball in the perfect spot. I couldn't have asked for anything better. It was honestly all Marina."

In a meeting of star juniors, Melby got the upper hand on Slicers counterpart Anya Kennedy, who had a seemingly quiet 16 kills in the loss. Lourdes (Lulu) Torres backed Melby with 14 kills and 6-0 sophomore Haley Wallace also played well up front.

"We've been working really hard to get to the point where everyone's a big hitter on the team," Melby said. "It really helps. No one can just get shut down. It's a really big difference. We're more diverse in where we're setting. Marina's really good on keeping everything open for us. I think the big thing this year is proving ourselves. Coach (Brett Boden) has always said, we've never really made a name for Munster. Every year, we get close. This year, we want to make a name for ourselves. I think we're on a good path."

Rebounding from a tournament loss Saturday to Crown Point, Munster gutted out tight games to take a 2-0 lead, then responded well in game four after the Slicers took the third to extend the match.

"We knew La Porte was going to fight super hard in that third set," Boden said. "The start of the fourth, the first, five six points were going to be crucial. We talked about how they were going to come out fired up and I thought we stood our ground. I try to hold off on timeouts at the beginning of the season as much as I can, so they feel like they have ownership on stopping runs. We stuck together. From there, it just built up. The pressure built up on their side because we were blocking better. Sydney Lash came off the bench and got two big blocks. We served well. Serve receive and defense were really good, which allows the offense to be really good."

The strong work at the service line kept La Porte from getting Kennedy into a flow and also contributed to the Slicers making a change at libero.

"It's kind of blood in the water when you see a libero switch after the first set," Boden said. "We know Sarah (Morton) sees that and it's open season. I like how we went head first into that. They had to set (Kennedy) from off the mat. She wants the ball a little tighter. Aniya is hard to game plan against. We kind of let her get hers when she gets it and then try to serve tough when she's in front so they can't set her as much. The serve predicates your defense and if you can turn defense into quick offense, it makes the defense even better. We transitioned real well back out to the pin."

The 5-9 Torres, who also plays with Michio, was particularly productive on cross-court shots, striking several such kills.

"It's something I've been working on for a while," Torres said. "Obviously, Aniya is a huge blocker, so my goal is to keep it out of her hands. I didn't want to keep getting stuffed. Their setters were playing really good defense, so I started playing the angles and it was working. We do our best when we're mixing it up. A lot of high school teams tend to be a little outside heavy so we try our best to go all three or even just pin to pin because it really tires out the middles. We try to throw in some back row attacks."

Munster players celebrate Thursday's four-game win

over La Porte.

La Porte coach Jessica Ramirez felt like her team struggled in responding to their first adversity of the early season.

"Munster showed up and executed their game plan and we didn't," she said. "We were making errors early on that we weren't making the last two games and it made the girls a little apprehensive the rest of the match. They definitely didn't play the game they're capable of. They got nervous and were trying too hard to make plays instead of just playing. Our defense struggled. Our block struggled. The fourth set, I don't know if they didn't expect Munster to keep fighting or what, but they did."

Halle Seaburg had 22 assists, one more than Paige Conklin. Kayla Dove made 22 digs with Lesley Marshall notching 14.

"You learn a lot more from a loss than you from a win," Ramirez said. "I've never coached such a talented group, but I don't think they see themselves through the same lens. I haven't seen them play the way they're capable of, to their fullest potential. It's a team where we're trying to rebuild a culture and there are going to be some growing pains."

For Munster, the win was a strong rebound from a loss to C.P., playing consecutive matches against what are expected to be the area's other top teams.

"It was better than like we started on Saturday," Boden said. "I feel like every time we've taken the court, we've gotten better. We're executing what we're working on in practice and whatever we talk about on the sideline, we're executing on the court. We can still clean some stuff up. We were excited coming in to have a bounce-back after Crown Point and a kind of a deflating third set. They're grinding in the gym, listening. We finally have an older team."

Gronkiewicz racked up 43 assists in the win, slipping in five change-of-pace kills. Morton registered 27 digs.

"La Porte and Crown Point are always big obstacles," Torres said. "It's important to see them at the beginning, we both grow, and hopefully we beat them at the end."

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