Abbey Smith

Maiden's Abbey Smith (13) goes to the net against St. Stephens' Kendall Setzer (14) and Neila King (3) during the first set Saturday in Claremont. 

CLAREMONT — Three Catawba County high schools met for a volleyball tri-match Saturday, looking to fine tune their squads in the midst of conference schedules.

The matches played between host Bunker Hill, Maiden and St. Stephens were all competitive — 14 of the possible 15 sets were played — but it was the Blue Devils who were the big winner on the day with wins over both St. Stephens and host Bunker Hill. Maiden held off the Indians 3-2 and finished the afternoon’s contest with a 3-1 win over the home-standing Bears. In the other match, Bunker Hill edged St. Stephens 3-2.

St. Stephens (7-8) was the heartbreak team of the day, losing back-to-back five-set matches to start the day. After dropping the first set 25-20, the Indians went up 2-1 after taking sets two and three 25-22 and 25-10. St. Stephens led 19-16 in set four but had to take a timeout due to confusion over a substitution. Upon the return, six errors by the Indians aided an 8-1 a run by Bunker Hill (9-7). Carter Leatherman’s kill kept the set alive, however her next kill attempt went long to end the set for the Bears, who won 25-21 and set up the fifth set. With the score tied at 7, Marlee Miller’s ace started a 7-2 Bears run and put Bunker Hill at match point. Leatherman’s kill and block, along with two hitting errors got the Indians within 14-13. Bailee Hamlett’s spike off the Indians’ block sewed up the match for the Bears.

Entering the week as the fourth-ranked 2A school by MaxPreps.com, Maiden (14-3) looked the part against St. Stephens in the day’s middle match. The Blue Devils used a 14-1 run to put away the Indians 25-14 in set one. However, St. Stephens dominated the net in the second set to even the score. Leatherman had all six kills during a 6-2 stretch the opened the set up to 21-14 and the Indians took it 25-15. The Blue Devils pounced back to win set three 25-23 before St. Stephens forced the decisive set after winning set four 25-15. After the teams forged a 7-7 tie, the Indians used four Maiden errors and kills from Leatherman, a back-court score from libero Maddie McElroy and a spike from Kendall Setzer to put the Blue Devils to the brink at 13-8. However, St. Stephens had three kill attempts go off line and had two other unforced errors. Along with Natalie Lail’s ace, Maiden scored six straight and closed out the match on a spike from Sarah Wicker.

Indians coach Julie Harris said her young squad is improving, but the next step is finding a way to win key moments.

“There are some little things within the team that we have to work on, individually, to come together as a team to finish,” said Harris. “That is a mental thing that each person has to figure out for themselves.”

Maiden’s coach Marsha Davis had mixed reviews of her team on the afternoon. She was pleased with how her team fought through the two matches on the tail of a five-set win over Bandys on Thursday.

“We had some good spots and we had some rough spots today,” said Davis. “We’ve played a whole lot and it’s showing. Both of the teams we played have some good hitters.”

The match against the Indians was the second time her team had led 2-1, but needed a fifth set to finish off the win.

Davis said that while there are times of frustration, she had no issue with the Blue Devils’ effort. “I get that frustration,” Davis said. “But then they do things like this where the battle back and win. They don’t let me down.”

Turning to the Bears, Maiden took set one 25-18 with Abbey Smith putting down five kills and Isabella Abernathy picking up four kills. The Blue Devils made it two in a row after four straight kills closed out a 25-21 win in set two. Bunker Hill used three blocks, two by Payton Bryant, and three kills from Marlee Miller to keep the match alive after winning set three 25-22. Savannah Lail’s third ace of set four put Maiden up 18-11 before the Bears made a final charge. A block from Cierra Martin along with a kill from Camryn Bryant helped pull Bunker Hill within 19-16. Later, a serving error and a missed kill by Maiden left the Blue Devils up 23-22, but Bunker Hill’s serving error and a kill by Smith put the match away 25-22.

Bears coach Kelsey Dettman felt the competition allowed her team to get repetitions in game situations, as opposed to practicing against each other. She was pleased with how her bunch handled a tough Maiden team.

“I thought they played very scrappy and very smart,” said Dettman. “I felt like, even with the loss against Maiden, I was most proud of the way they finished, playing strong.”

Although her team has had a rash of injuries, Dettman said the Bears proved to themselves they can still compete with high-quality squads.

“I just feel like playing today and seeing that we can be competitive and they we are still a good competitive team,” the Bears’ coach said. “I think that’s really important for the girls to see that.”

Bunker Hill travels to Fred T. Foard Monday, while St. Stephens visits Alexander Central. Maiden hosts West Lincoln Tuesday.

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