NEW PALESTINE — The New Palestine Dragons had a point to prove against rival Greenfield-Central on Thursday night, and even at less than their best, they hammered it home.
The host Dragons built an early 2-0 lead against the Cougars and closed out their Hoosier Heritage Conference opener with defense in the fourth set to win 3-1.
In years past, the teams’ annual showdown would be one of a potential two during the regular-season, but with the Hancock County volleyball tournament dissolved prior to this season, both sides were invigorated.
Allison Dennemann fired a team-best 21 kills for the Dragons, including one to seal the first set, and Jordan Brittsan recorded a career-high and program record seven solo blocks as New Palestine won 25-19, 25-19, 19-25, 25-13.
“In the third set, I don’t think we played very good defense. That’s how we got the loss. Honestly, I don’t think we played our best tonight, which is kind of frustrating because they were fired up,” New Palestine head coach Kelli Whitaker said. “But we still found a way to win through adversity. I expect a lot, especially when we play Greenfield because it’s our rival.”
Conference foes, and now sectional adversaries with New Palestine moving up to Class 4A this year, the Dragons improved to 8-2 on the season, winning their second straight.
The loss was Greenfield-Central’s third straight and second in HHC play, pushing them to 6-4 on the season and 0-2 in the conference.
New Palestine, which is ranked 20th in the state, according to the Indiana High School Volleyball Coaches Association’s Z-Ratings, took the first set behind a 6-2 run midway through to establish a cushion.
In the second set, the Cougars rallied back to cut the Dragons’ lead to four points twice before a block at the net put New Palestine ahead 2-0.
“At the end of the set in the second, we started to build momentum. When you get in those situations and you burn your timeouts early, then you have to just go and let your kids play,” Greenfield-Central head coach Travis Fuller said. “It carried over into the third set, and then the fourth set we got off to a slow start. You can’t do that against a good team, especially on the road.”
In the third set, the Cougars, which rotated several hitters on the left side, put together a 6-0 and 4-0 run to go up 13-9. Kills from Ava Antic and Makayla Price capped their comeback finish to make it 2-1.
Haleigh Pribble led the Cougars with 10 kills, followed by Antic’s eight and Price’s seven. Fighting off several Dragons’ attacks with gritty defense, Greenfield-Central had 21 digs from Hannah Burkhart and 12 from Price. Molly Broome had 32 assists and three blocks.
“We got a little bit more comfortable and started taking care of the ball more. The first set, we had more hitting errors than they had kills,” Fuller said. “You’re not going to beat New Pal that way. We just settled down a little bit and handled the ball better. That’s part of having a young team.”
New Palestine’s experience and size showed in the fourth set led by Dennemann, Long and Brittsan, who stands 6-foot.
Back-to-back kills by Dennemann put New Palestine, a 3A final four team in 2016, up 6-2. An ace by Long increased the margin by 10 as the offense fed off the defense.
“Everyone knows that Greenfield and us kind of have a volleyball rivalry because we’ve been so head-to-head every year,” said Long, who had 23 digs and 16 kills. “The game was going to be very passionate for both teams, and it was. We were all really into it.”
Brittsan’s blocks routinely halted the Cougars’ in key moments while Lydia Jones posted 15 digs, and Sydney Robertson recorded 41 assists.
“Defense was a key to our success tonight. (Jordan) was so big at the net, and she had so many blocks and touches,” Long said. “She threw everything down. It was impressive.”
Dennemann added nine digs and three of the team’s 10 aces. Kaelyn Armstrong had three kills and five digs.
“Over the summer and in the preseason, we’ve really been working on defense and that mindset,” Long said. “We know we have a really good offense, but defense is key because if we can be scrappy and be tough back there, it’s going to help us win so many games.”
New Palestine 3, Greenfield-Central 1
GC (6-4, 0-2 HHC; 19;19;25;13;—;1
NP (8-2, 1-0 HHC);25;25;19;25;—;3
Kills: A. Dennamann 21, M. Long 16, Armstrong 3 (NP); H. Pribble 10, A. Antic 8, M. Price 7, M. Grigsby 6 (GC).
Digs: M. Long 23, L. Jones 15, A. Dennamann 9, S. Robertson 7, K. Armstrong 5 (NP); H. Burkhart 21, M. Grigsby 9, M. Price 12 (GC).
Assists: M. Broome 32 (GC); S. Robertson 41 (NP).
Blocks: J. Brittsan 7 (NP); M. Broome 3, M. Voigt 4 (GC).