John Bruce, Contributor
FRENCHTOWN — With several leaders out, if Unioto was going to come up with a bounce back victory over Huntington Thursday night, it was going to have to do so by using major efforts from their underclassmen.
That’s exactly what the Shermans ordered and received. Unioto’s crop of underclassmen helped the Shermans respond in a major way as they earned four-set victory over the previously unbeaten Huntsmen.
On Tuesday, the Shermans (3-1, 1-1 SVC) dropped a five-set heartbreaker to rival Zane Trace and lost even more than just the match … two-time SVC Defensive Player of the Year Hallie Pinkerton was unavailable for the Tanks Thursday evening. Adding on even more, the purple and gold were without seniors Emily Coleman and Jerzi Paul, as well as sophomore Carissa Wheeler.
Down four rotation players, you may have thought Unioto would struggle when the talented Huntsmen (5-1, 1-1 SVC) came into town. But the Shermans’ outstanding depth came through, leading them to a huge conference victory.
Needing to fill four typical rotation spots, Unioto turned to two sophomores and two freshmen to either play different roles or to play all the way around the rotation. All four of them stepped up when called upon.
Sophomores Ava Eldridge and Brynlee Viney, along with freshmen Sydney McGlone and Sophie Coleman, all filled new roles with near perfection.
“Taking Sophie and Sydney up, they both played really big roles tonight,” senior Alexis Miller said. “Sophie, being a setter and stepping in as libero, and Sydney coming in front row was huge for us, too, and with both of them as freshmen coming up and playing with us after losing four of our girls was big.”
Through three sets, it was one whale of a match between two outstanding schools.
Throughout the opening set, it seemed like a big game of “anything you can do, I can do better” being played between Unioto’s Cottrill and Huntington’s Allison Basye. Each player had three kills in the opening 12 serves as the teams raced out to a 6-6 tie early in the first.
However, that’s when Unioto’s depth began to take control.
Viney, normally a front row only player, began to put her fingerprints on the match, serving five consecutive points to help the Shermans build a 12-6 lead.
“I had faith in Bryn, and tonight, I thought she did a great job. She held her own,” Unioto coach Natalie Stulley said. “I saw that passion come back in her tonight and that’s the best version of her we can get … that fiery kid, … same thing in Kacey Pierce, and I thought Cree [Stulley] did a nice job in the front row as well.”
Huntington battled back throughout the first, eventually getting as close as 20-19 after an ace by Basye, before eventually succumbing 25-20.
Basye’s service ability, along with great back row play by Harmony Henneberger, kept the Huntsmen in the second set. The lead changed multiple times with the Huntsmen battling back from a 21-17 deficit to tie the game at 21 as Katie Hirsch drilled the ball down the left sideline and force a Unioto timeout.
The timeout gave the Tanks momentum to go back ahead 23-21. But a great hustle play by Huntington’s Megan Steele kept a ball alive and, somehow, it split the entire Shermans’ defense, giving the Huntsmen hope in the second. The Huntsmen completed the comeback with an ace from Steele to win the set 26-24, and even the match.
Looking around the bleachers, it seemed as if the crowd knew the emotional high for the now-young Shermans was over, and that the Huntsmen would now do what they were expected to do: win.
But, Stulley’s Tanks seemed to pay homage to Lee Corso and said, “Not so fast!”
After Huntington jumped out to an 8-4 lead in the third, Unioto called a timeout. Whatever was said in that timeout lit a massive spark within the Shermans’ camp, eventually leading to them taking a 14-13 lead following an ace by sophomore Ava Eldridge.
UNIOTO THIS SEASON
|3-0 W (25-20, 25-15, 25-16)
|3-2 W (20-25, 23-25, 25-23, 25-20, 15-9)
|2-3 L (22-25, 25-15, 20-25, 25-19, 6-15)
|3-1 W (25-20, 24-26, 25-17, 25-10)
The Huntsmen signaled for another timeout, but alas, the Tanks were finally on a roll and earned a dominating 25-17 third set win, one that was punctuated by another ace, this time from Miller.
In a match where she showed how brilliant she can be, Cottrill solidified that statement in the fourth. The senior served the Tanks out to a quick 5-0 lead, one that eventually went to 19-8 on a kill by Kacey Pierce, and finally, a merciful 25-10 finish after a smash from Pierce.
“I felt like Amber stepped up as a leader tonight. When she’s having fun and smiling, our team plays well,” Stulley said about Cottrill. “She can be hard on herself, but she didn’t tonight and it made a big difference for our team.”
Unioto is back in action on Saturday as they host the Unioto Invitational Tournament, while Huntington waits until Tuesday to play again, when they it travels to Kinnikinnick to take on Zane Trace.
NOTES: Unioto won the junior varsity match 25-18, 25-15 … the Unioto Invitational begins at 10 a.m. and will feature the following schools: Athens, Chillicothe, Circleville, Fairland, Logan Elm, McClain, and Washington CH