La Porte downs CP; stays unbeaten in DAC
La PORTE -- If anyone knows the importance of a good setter to an offense, it's Paige Conklin.
The La Porte senior, whose dual role as setter and a hitter has been enhanced by teammate Halle Seaburg's own development at the position, is having a blast, blasting the ball.
"Halle and I connect well," Conklin said after her 23 kills on a near-perfect hitting night keyed La Porte's 25-17, 20-25, 25-21, 25-19 Duneland Conference win over Crown Point at Slicer Gym. "It makes my goals even higher. It just makes it so much more fun to be able to not just set and hit, but to have someone who plays the same position as me. You don't really get a lot of credit for setting. You might get it from your hitter once in a while, but I feel like hitting, you get the crowd more. We can switch during plays and make it more confusing."
Seaburg, who registered 23 assists while Conklin had 18, is cool with delivering the ball to Conklin and the rest of the Slicers' hitting arsenal.
"She deserves the credit. She's a stud," Seaburg said. "I'm more confident now with my own abilities. A big factor is my teammates. I see that the trust me a lot more. I've grown up trying to be like Paige and I feel like I'm there now. She's been my best friend for so long and we've just been competing and competing. In the off-season, my club coach is great, and she made me the player I want to be."
Crown Point coach Alison Duncan pointed to Conklin as the difference-maker in the match.
"I think that Paige is having a fantastic season," Duncan said. "What I'm most impressed with is her as a hitter. We haven't necessarily seen her hit like this before. She's jumping really well, getting over the block, hitting really nice line shots on the right side."
After La Porte controlled the first game, CP got a boost off the bench from 6-foot-4 Lilly Stoddard to pull even.
"I felt like we weren't passing well enough when she was in the front row to get her going as we would have wanted," Duncan said. "We're taking her out and we're forcing the ball to the right side."
The Bulldogs' offense couldn't get on track and service errors late in game three and throughout game four sabotaged the Bulldogs' chances.
"For some reason, the two times we've played them, we haven't played relaxed volleyball," Duncan said. "That's what we were talking about after the match. Why were we playing them differently than how we play other teams? When we go down to Avon and beat New Castle, we're relaxed and aggressive. We come in and play La Porte, and we're stressed and we're making uncharacteristic errors. I don't know if it's them forcing us to make mistakes or if it's more us mentally struggling with that. A lot of these juniors have the experience. They played in semistate last year. They've just got to perform. They've got to execute better."
La Porte coach Jessica Ramirez complimented her team's defense, both at the net and on the back line.
"We've been really focused on (blocking) in practice," she said. "It's gotten a lot better and tonight it was really dominant. It takes a lot of wind out of your opponents' sails, getting blocked all the time, then having to reassess. We've been kind of coaching them, blocking is kind of like a basketball pick. Wherever your opponent is coming from, you just want to front them. What makes us so strong is our setters can play defense. We've been challenging our serve receive passers to know what we're running on offense, so they have a narrowed in target. Does the setter want the ball right in front of her, does she want it on her forehead?"
The defensive highlight may well have come late in the fourth game when the 5-foot-8 Seaburg was able to put down a solo block on one of CP's big boppers. She was so hyped by the play, she ran into Marshall and both fell to the floor.
"That doesn't happen much for me," Seaburg said. "I don't think I've ever gotten a solo block like that, that was that powerful. We were trying to shut down their big hitters, and that was one of their big hitters. I just turned around and all my teammates were already cheering so loud, I had so much adrenaline, it was just awesome. We like to say defense wins games. We've been working a lot on blocking, and we're seeing it play out on the court. Our middles were busting their butts. It was just so cool. It makes it easier on our passers, then when the hard hits come, our passers are excited. They want to get the digs."
On the offensive side, Ramirez was emphasizing speed.
"We've been really focused on running a faster offense," she said. "We were really keyed in on siding out on that first ball. The first-ball kill was really our goal, just to control those three contacts we get. It's the mindset of when they serve, that's a good thing for us because now we get the first chance to score."
Conklin hit 38-of-40, adding 17 digs. Aniya Kennedy backed her offensively with 12 kills. Marshall had 33 digs. Kendall Schara had 10 kills and 24 digs for the Bulldogs (18-3, 7-2), while Paige Schalow connected on nine kills and Rachel Rossman made 36 assists.
"Amber played out of her mind," Ramirez said. "The faster we can run a play out of our serve receive, the less time our opponent has to get to their spots. If we stick to our game plan, stay focused, keep working on what we're working on, just try to get better every day, we're on a staircase, and I think we'll finish well. Our mentality is one percent every day."
The win puts La Porte (17-2, 9-0) two games clear of CP in the conference.
"I'm a senior, it's my last time playing Crown Point in the DAC, I really wanted to come out and win," Conklin said. "We just transferred everything we've been working on in practice into the game. We keep gelling when it's time to play."