COAL CITY — If early-season matches are any indication, then expect both the Morris and Coal City volleyball teams to have exciting seasons.
The two neighboring rivals played in front of a large crowd charged with a postseason atmosphere Thursday night and gave those in attendance every bit of excitement they could hope for as Morris escaped with a 25-19, 22-25, 25-23 victory.
"That was just a fun match," Morris coach Taylor Lafond said. "Our girls kept fighting for every point. That's something you can't teach. We know our team has a lot of heart.
"We had to switch some things up tonight. Sam Macchietto got hurt in practice the other day and needed to rest tonight, so we had to move Erika Halcomb to another spot and put in Layna Dunne into the middle. It all worked out well. The girls did what they were supposed to do. What more can a coach ask for?"
The first set was tight at the start, with ties at 2, 4, 5, 6 and 7 before Coal City got three straight kills from Lauren Phillips to take an 11-7 lead. Morris (2-0) countered with a kill by Kaylie Adams and an ace by Olivia Schultz to pull to within 11-10. Another Phillips kill put Coal City ahead 13-11, and Morris answered with kills by Kennedy Dransfeldt and Halcomb to tie it at 13. An ace by Adams made it 14-13, and the Redskins came up with a big play that included spectacular saves by Dunne and Hannah Barth before Adams sent the ball back over the net. A Coal City hitting error made it 15-13 and gave Morris much needed momentum.
Coal City regained the lead at 19-18, but Morris got the next seven points behind back-to-back kills by Adams and a pair of aces by Schultz to take the first set.
Coal City (1-1) got a spark off the bench from Keaira Williams early in the second set, as she had two kills to propel the Coalers to a 10-7 lead that they never relinquished. Also coming through will key kills in the second set were Brooke Chapman, Blaire Harseim and freshman McKenna Fitzpatrick.
Morris jumped to an early 4-1 lead in the third set and built it to 10-5. Coal City rallied to tie it at 11, but then Morris pulled ahead, 15-11. Again, Coal City battled back, tying the game at 18, and there were ties at 19, 20, 22 and 23 before Morris scored the final two points to win the match.
Ali Brancato led Coal City with 24 digs and Harseim added 16 digs and led in kills with seven and added six service points. Luci Hakey led in service points with eight and also had 13 digs for the eveing. Fitzpatrick, Megan Norris and Phillips each had four kills. Norris had three solo blocks and Fitzpatrick and Harseim each had two.
"We did a lot of good things," Coal City coach Pam McMurtrey said. "One thing about this group is that they keep fighting. They have great teamwork and great leadership. We will keep progressing as the year goes on.
"We hit well and we played smart. This was like a regional match with the crowd and the excitement. We are taking nothing but positive things from this match."
Lafond was pleased with the performance of her team as well.
"It was another match where everyone came in and contributed," she said. "Alex Binder stepped up big for us. Erika Halcomb hasn't played a lot on defense lately, but she was a hustle queen tonight and we know we can count on her. Our middles, Kennedy Dransfeldt and Nicole Guth, were outstanding tonight.
"These girls are a joy to coach and they will just keep getting better."