Warriors and Bucks play another classic

PHOTO BY JILL GOSCHE Buckeye Central's Molly Geissman (23) sends the ball over the net as Mohawk's Alexa Konkle (from left), Madi Chester and Emma Myers-Huffman defend in Sycamore Monday.

SYCAMORE — For almost two hours Monday night, two of the best Division IV teams in Ohio went to battle.

In the end, No. 10 Mohawk outlasted No. 18 Buckeye Central, 25-22, 25-15, 21-25, 23-25, 15-5, in a pivotal Northern 10 Athletic Conference showdown.

Mohawk improved to 12-1 overall and 8-1 in conference, while the Bucks fell to 10-5, 9-1. It is Buckeye Central’s first league loss since Sept. 29, 2015 vs. Upper Sandusky — a run of 47 straight matches.

“It feels good,” Mohawk coach Eric Hoover said of giving Buckeye Central its first league loss in almost exactly three years. “I felt that we had a good chance to do it the first time (we played), but we made way too many mistakes. I feel like we are playing better than we were.”

The Warriors, who have now won 12 matches in a row, could not have scripted a better start to Game 5. Two Buckeye Central errors and a kill from Paityn Clouse opened a 3-0 lead. Madi Chester registered a block and Kaylee Ward smacked an ace to force Bucks coach Paige Caudill into a timeout.

“The first time we played them when we played over there, we played tense in the fifth game,” Hoover said. “We told them whatever you do, relax and play and whatever you do, be aggressive doing it.”

The lead reached 6-0 after another kill from Clouse before Lexi Evak recorded a kill and a block for Buckeye Central. Mohawk responded with the next four points that included two kills from Chester. Emma Myers-Huffman, Alexa Konkle and Ward each put down a kill to seal the win.

“We got down,” Caudill said. “We did not quite come out with the hits that we needed right off the bat. A couple points here or there in that game changes the dynamic.”

It was all Mohawk early on. The Warriors looked to be on their way to a comfortable win despite a slow start. Buckeye Central jumped out to a 5-0 lead after four errors from Mohawk. The Warriors responded and stayed within striking distance until their wide variety of hitters settled in.

The Bucks led 16-14 after a kill from Kendra Ackerman (10 digs), but that was about the same time that Mohawk made its move. The Warriors reeled off eight straight points for a 23-17 lead. Buckeye Central won the next five points to threaten, but consecutive kills by Ward gave Mohawk the early lead.

“They were ready to go,” Hoover said of his team. “We were a little tense and a little too energetic the first part of the first game. Once we got control and got the lead, we were able to relax and carry that through and play well in the second game.”

The Warriors flexed their muscles a bit more in Game 2. Buckeye Central led 3-1 early on, but Ward took control of the game. She had a pair of kills around a Bucks serving error for a 12-8 lead.

Later, with Mohawk leading 15-12, the 5-foot-6 senior blasted down six kills in a row for the Warriors — only interrupted by a kill from Molly Geissman for the Bucks. That gave Mohawk a 21-13 lead and a kill off the arm of Chester helped the Warriors to a 2-0 lead.

But just as it looked like Mohawk would cruise to a comfortable win, the Bucks flipped the script. A slow start by the Warriors in Game 3 due to errors — nearly identical to Game 1 — allowed Buckeye Central to gain some momentum.

The Bucks slowly but surely built onto their lead. Five straight points made it 21-13, but Mohawk won seven of the next eight points to cut the deficit to 22-20. Buckeye Central got to game point after two Mohawk errors and the Bucks got on the board when Evak blasted one of her 17 kills.

“We made an adjustment at the end of the second game defensively that really helped us to pick up a lot of their line shots and some of their deeper shots,” Caudill said. “The girls did an excellent job of making that adjustment midway through the match. Give our defense that much credit to really be able to focus in and do what we need to do.”

Game 4 followed the script of the previous three games in how closely the two teams played. Buckeye Central took a 15-12 lead after Mohawk was whistled for an error, but the Warriors fought back and tied the game at 18 with three straight points.

The Bucks responded with four straight points and led 24-22 later. Chester recorded one of her 19 kills to get the Warriors within a point, but Evak finished Game 4 just as she did Game 3 — with a huge kill to tie the match.

“The girls made a great comeback,” Caudill said. “They played hard and we played well. When you are that evenly matched with somebody, you are going to get them sometimes and (sometimes) you are not. It is the little things sometimes that make the match.”

So what happened to the Warriors to cause them to nearly blow the comfortable lead?

“Thinking ahead,” Hoover said. “Counting your chickens before they hatch. Thinking ahead and counting it in the win column when we had go win another (game). We relaxed a bit.”

Buckeye Central topped Mohawk for the Warriors’ only loss back on Aug. 23rd, 25-17, 26-28, 16-25, 25-19, 15-9. Each team has now won five games apiece and Mohawk has won 207 points and Buckeye Central’s won 199. How close are these two teams?

“They are pretty even,” Hoover said. “We probably have overall more offensive weapons. They have such great ball control and such great defense like they always do. That is why they are always good. It evens out. We have different strengths.”

Evak added five blocks, while Allison Weithman tallied 28 assists, 22 digs, and three blocks. Lydia Ackerman had 12 digs, Parker Phenicie registered 11 digs, Courtney Pifher contributed five digs and four kills, and Allyson Sostakowski had seven digs and three kills.

“What an awesome match,” Caudill said. “What a great atmosphere. It was a fun match.”

Chester also had 36 digs, six assists, and three blocks, while Konkle had 55 assists, 17 digs, and 11 kills. Ward finished with 20 kills and 14 digs and Myers-Huffman had 13 kills. Aubrey Margraf tallied 26 digs, Ellie Shaw had 12 digs, and Clouse finished with six kills and six blocks.