In a 2019 season that hasn’t been easy on the North Ridgeville Rangers volleyball team, Sept. 17’s home match against their Southwestern Conference opponent Lakewood Rangers was a step in the right direction.
After jumping out to a quick two-set lead (25-13, 25-20), Ridgeville had multiple opportunities to win an extended third set but couldn’t close the door on Lakewood as the visiting Rangers took the third, 28-26. In the fourth set, however, the host Rangers once again asserted their dominance, finishing out the set and the match 25-12.
“I made a few adjustments in the back row to bring some more energy to the court,” North Ridgeville coach Lisa Bakaitis said of the changes she made going into the fourth set. “When you lose a close three-set match, it tends to really put a damper on things. So I wanted to plug a little more energy into the court and the little more consistency into the court.”
As far as consistency goes, Bakaitis needed to look no further than setter Emma Shupp. The Ranger (3-9, 2-7 SWC) offense ran through the sophomore as Shupp totaled 39 assists and 15 digs. Offensively, she also added four aces and two kills.
“Both Hailey (Elbert) and Emma have varsity experience which is really important,” Bakaitis said. “They’ve played together and they have that experience together. Just being able to rely on them during those long rallies and in those intense situations is really beneficial for us. That’s something that part of our team has that the other part doesn’t.”
Ridgeville’s youthful roster boasts just two seniors, six juniors, four sophomores and one freshman. Elbert is one of those juniors and racked up four aces and five kills. Leading the Ranger offense, though, was junior Calista Walsuk with 13 kills. Sophomore Kali Palco followed close behind with eight kills.
Even though the Rangers dropped that third set, it came following a fiery comeback attempt after trailing Lakewood (3-8, 1-8 SWC) by as many as five points. Ridgeville also had opportunities to close the set out at 24-23 and 25-24.
Bakaitis credited her young team for their adjustments both mid-set in the third and before the fourth set. The players were more than pleased with their adaptations as well.
“Ultimately, it comes down to making the smart plays,” Shupp said. “Trying to figure out what’s open and when to make the right shot at the right time.”
Elbert added that “Trying not put the ball down with the hard kill,” helped keep them level late in the match.
“A roll or anything or an offspeed shot to the middle can get us back up and get that side out where we can get our runs there,” Elbert said. “Just bring the energy up as well.”
North Ridgeville will have to keep that energy up against a tough upcoming slate of teams. After conference matchups against Midview, North Olmsted and Olmsted Falls, the Rangers play at Avon Lake on Saturday, Berea-Midpark on Monday at home and at Westlake on Tuesday. All games are scheduled for 6:30 first serves.
“We had a long discussion at practice yesterday about things we need to improve on and we did do some of those things that we planned on improving on,” Bakaitis said. “A win will always boost you in the right direction but when you win (and) they understand that we’re winning because we’re implementing things we should be and we’re focusing on our improvement, that really makes the connection and we can build on it.”
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