NEW CASTLE — Playing in close matches is nothing new to the New Palestine volleyball team, especially when trying to stay unbeaten in the Hoosier Heritage Conference.
The Dragons dropped the first set at New Castle Thursday before grabbing the next three to defeat the host Trojans 3-1 at New Castle Fieldhouse.
New Palestine (14-2, 4-0) won by set scores of 23-25, 25-15, 25-22, 25-23.
Nine days ago, the Dragons lost the first two sets before coming back to defeat HHC-foe Delta, 3-2. Last Thursday, they were up two sets against Pendleton Heights and had to hold on for a five-set conference victory.
They didn’t let it get that far against the Trojans.
“We knew the mistakes we had made (in the first set) and we knew what we needed to change,” New Palestine senior setter Isabella Gizzi said. “Our coach always says when we are six individuals it never works. We knew that’s how we were playing. We kept it together and we picked up our defense, which helped a lot.”
Assistant coach Jamie Morris added that the defensive changes and seeing that refuse to lose look on the Dragons made a big difference in the outcome.
“They really wanted it and to be 4-0 in the conference. That’s a big deal for us,” Morris said. “New Castle is a tough team. They break you down, sometimes play at a slower pace than we are used to. We weren’t covering much ground, by the (defensive specialists), and our blocking wasn’t tough.
“Once we fixed both of those things and started blocking better and covering ground better there was a momentum shift in our favor.”
After a close first-set loss, the Dragons jumped out to significant leads in the remaining sets.
They led 5-1 to start the second, 5-0 to start the third and 3-0 to start the fourth.
“Coach always talks about money balls, three in a row,” Gizzi said. “If you can keep getting three (points) in a row, likely you’re going to win. Starting off strong is really important because our energy is really important. If a team doesn’t have energy they are not going to do anything.”
Gizzi had a big night with 51 assists and finished with a double-double with 14 digs.
She was not just setting her two all-conference hitters, sophomore outside Lauren Wilson and senior middle Reagan Kleiman, she was getting the ball to a number of hitters and all were eager to put the ball way.
“I think our key players did well tonight, but the secondary girls were the keys to winning,” Gizzi added.
Junior outside hitter Bella Brownfield had 10 kills. Junior right side hitter Nyla Lewis had one of her stronger matches of the year with eight kills.
“Nyla was huge tonight,” Morris said. “She did a fantastic job getting kills and putting the ball away.”
Wilson had 16 kills and Kleiman had 13. Defensively, libero Honour Mallory had 26 digs.
The match finished on a combo block from junior middle blocker Rachel Burke and Gizzi.
“Sometimes we separate and go our individual ways,” Morris said of how the Dragons turned to a more team-oriented style to pick up the win. “If we’re all on the same page, we’re phenomenal. When they look at each other and say ‘There’s no way we’re losing,’ I trust them. I trust we’re pretty hard to beat when they have that mentality.”
The Dragons are second in the conference. They play a non-conference match Monday, at home, against Franklin Central. On Tuesday, they welcome conference-leading 6-0 Yorktown to their gym.