CHARLOTTESVILLE — With her team looking for a momentum shift down early in the second set to Eastern Hancock, Rachel Irbe delivered.
Waiting. Measuring. And finally reacting.
Irbe found her opening off a well-placed assist near the net and hammered it, recording a kill — one of her team-high 16 — sparking a 12-2 rally for the Greenfield-Central Cougars and eventually the team’s first win of the season 3-0 in straight sets.
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“We’re not only relying on her physical abilities, but her leadership as well,” Greenfield-Central head coach Deena Batton said. “She’s always been a quiet leader, but now we’re getting her and the other seniors to step up both vocally and physically.”
The Cougars (1-2) bounced back strong after going the distance with Richmond on Wednesday, falling 3-2 in a tug-of-war match that included a decisive fifth set.
Taking the lead with a 25-9 win in the first set against the host Royals, a recurring theme stemming from the Richmond match resurfaced, but it didn’t overwhelm them this time.
Surrendering 26 points off errors to the Royals (2-3), the Cougars regrouped and only trailed twice the entire match.
“We set goals before we went in tonight to minimize unforced errors. I think that helped having a goal going into the game,” said Irbe, an Eastern Michigan commit. “I think everything just clicked tonight. We were all working hard, and the flow was a lot better than the past two games.”
Greenfield-Central had dropped its first two matches of the season — 3-0 vs. Westfield the first week of the season — but with Irbe, Maddie Wise, and Emily Diehr on their game, the 5-foot-10 trio’s length was difficult to match.
Wise recorded five kills and two assisted blocks. Diehr posted 10 kills, two assisted blocks and a solo block. Irbe added a block and three aces with two coming in the second set, which Greenfield-Central won 25-19.
“When plays like that happen, it really brings up the energy on the team,” Irbe remarked on her six-kill first set and four-kill second. “It gets us focused on getting the next point.”
The Royals battled back in the second set, tying the match at 5-5 and keeping the margin close behind the efforts of Reagan Hunt, Laurie Eells and Leah Ferguson.
“We changed our lineup for the second set, and I think the girls felt more comfortable in that lineup. In fact, in the first set, I tried to change the lineup because of Rachel but it didn’t help,” Eastern Hancock head coach Cory Rainbolt said.
“It seems we’re a second set team. We like to work hard on the second set. That’s something we’re trying to work on, playing from the get go instead of warming up in the first set.”
Despite the Cougars’ untimely errors, the offense flowed steadily to overcome the miscues as 5-10 setter Molly Broome (12 assists) and Courtney Marchello (18 assists) fed the front line.
Greenfield-Central put the match away with a 25-9 third set as Haleigh Pribble and Diehr teamed for the final block.
“We are learning what rotation, what chemistry and overall what’s going to work, and their stepping up,” said Batton whose team will compete in the New Albany Invitational on Saturday.
“I think collectively, they’re starting to do it, starting to realize they need to bring that energy when we feel that lull. We have to play to win and not go out and play not to lose. There’s a big difference.”
The Royals dropped their second straight match, losing 3-0 to Centerville on Tuesday.
Eastern Hancock opened the year with a 3-0 win against Morristown, lost to Cambridge City Lincoln in a hard-fought 3-1 match last week and beat Indianapolis Howe 3-0 on Monday.
“I told my girls, ‘Don’t hang your heads. Greenfield is always great competition, and it gives us a bench mark and where we need to work on,’” Rainbolt said. “I was fine with how we played. We had a couple of let downs, but they’re still learning the game. We’re going to have those, but we have to learn. We have a lot of juniors, but we’re still volleyball young.”