Class 4A 14th-ranked Lewis Central only briefly showed ill effects from missing two starters in Thursday’s 3-1 victory over Creston, 25-11, 25-23, 19-25, 25-17.
The Titans improved to 5-1 in the Haweye 10, having lost only to top-ranked Harlan, and 11-12 overall. Creston, starting the night in a three-way tie for sixth in the league at 2-3, slipped to 2-4 in conference play and 10-7 overall.
Illness took libero Madyson Hamblin, one of the Hawkeye 10’s leading passers, and 6-1 middle hitter Brenna Jones out of the Titans’ lineup.
Yet, Lewis Central dominated the end of the opening set, pulling away from a 12-8 edge to win 25-11.
“We talk about not playing in fear, because we walk in against all of these ranked teams,” said Creston coach Polly Luther. “We have to get past that, and learn to play with that.”
The second set was much more competitive. Haylee LaMasters served a five-point run, punctuated by a kill from Natalie Mostek, to give the Panthers a 12-9 lead.
Reghan Coyle, LC’s 6-0 junior hitter who finished with a team-high 14 kills, triggered a run by the Titans for a 21-15 lead. Creston fought back. Jami Sickels, who took over at libero, served three points to close it to within 22-21.
A kill by Mostek and service point by LaMasters got it even at 23-23. But the Titans notched the final two points for a 25-23 win and 2-0 lead in the match.
The Panthers’ improvement carried over to the third set, however, with a commanding 18-5 lead. When setter Hanna Luther served successive points, with the second ending on a Jenna Taylor kill, it was a 20-6 Panther lead.
Abigail Bergsten, LC’s 6-1 junior outside hitter, reeled off a 10-serve string moments later to close the gap to 20-18, with momentum clearly switched to the Titans’ side.
A Titan error opened the door for Creston to stop the surge, and Mostek served three points, including an ace, to make it 24-18. LC got a kill to stave off set point, but Angie Sorensen punched it to an opening in the Titan court for the final point in a 25-19 Panther triumph.
Creston fought back from a 12-5 deficit to get within one at 17-16 in the fourth set, but couldn’t get over the hump as LC finished off the match with the 25-17 win.
“We had to move some kids around and we were a little out of whack, but we played well at the beginning of the match and then there at the end,” said LC coach Dennis South.
Besides Coyle’s match-high 14 kills, Bergsten added 13 and 5-10 senior middle blocker Megan Driver provided 12.
Creston’s Mostek, who was spared back-row duty a she recovers from an ankle injury in the homecoming Powder Puff flag football game, showed improved mobility and finished with a team high nine kills and four blocks. Taylor, Nicole Haley and Sorensen each had five kills.
When the Panthers were outplaying the Titans during the middle of the match, passing was a key and Sickels ended 14-of-17. Luther had 26 setting assists and a strong serving night at 17-17 with an ace. Mostek, LaMasters and Alli Thomsen were all perfect at the service line, with Mostek recording three aces.
The Panthers need more of that in tough matches, Luther said.
“We’re trying to make our serves a little bit more effective,” Luther said. “Our percentage is good, but against good teams you have to do some things a little bit different sometimes, whether it’s a floater or taking it right to them.”
There were also too many free balls sent over the net to give a hard-hitting LC offense extra opportunities.
“We have to terminate the ball,” Luther said. “Nobody is going to allow us to pass it over, because they’re going to play it. When we were playing well, our passing was key, and our hitters were attacking the ball.”
On Tuesday, Creston travels to Shenandoah and LC takes on Class 3A top-ranked Carroll Kuemper Catholic.
Serving (aces) — Natalie Mostek 17-17 (3), Hanna Luther 17-17 (1), Haylee LaMasters 11-11, Alli Thomsen 10-10, Brenna Baker 7-8, Jami Sickels 6-8.
Attacks (kills) — Mostek 9, Angie Sorensen 5, Nicole Haley 5, Jenna Taylor 5, Sydney Dunphy 2, Ashley Harris 2.
Blocks — Mostek 4, Sorensen 3, Haley 1, Taylor 1, Luther 1.
Setting (assists) — Hanna Luther 26.
Digs — Jami Sickels 12, LaMasters 7, Thomsen 6.
Lewis Central emerged victorious in a tight game one, 25-23, and went on to finish the 2-1 victory over Creston’s JV, 25-21, 11-15.
Alyssa Higgins was 17-19 in serve receive for Creston (12-3-1) and Nicole Haley had nine kills.
“All three games were hard-fought,” Creston coach Jessie McClellan said. “After the second set I really thought we were going to take it. Hats off to Lewis Central. They are a strong program. They cranked up their hitting and won.”
Still, Creston showed positive signs against a strong opponent.
“I am impressed with how our girls looked tonight,” McClellan said. “I truly believe they are improving every game. We definitely step up against good teams and compete.”
Lewis Central also picked up a 2-1 win in freshman play, 25-23, 25-11, 20-25.
“We lost an absolute heartbreaker and had our chances in game one,” said Creston coach Mike McCabe. “Game two got away from us with unforced errors. We came back and won the third game. I was pleased with how we competed, and some of our improvement showed up.”
Morghan Frey and Katie Powers led the Panthers’ setting, and Cammy Rutherford had one of her strongest nights at the net, McCabe said.