The Lady Huskies of Northwestern took the long bus ride from West Salem in Wayne County down to Athens County to take part in the first annual Spartan Invitational at Albany Alexander. Northwestern won the eight-team tournament with a 24-26, 25-23, 25-18 win over Alexander.
“We are excited that we were able to bring some of these great programs down here to Alexander,” said Alexander head coach Bradd Jeffers. “We had a few scheduling conflicts come up late in the week, but we adjusted the schedule well and it worked out.”
In the top bracket, host Alexander made quick work of Licking Christian 25-7, 25-18 and then repeated the feat knocking off South Webster in straight sets 25-14, 25-18 to advance to the finals.
Meanwhile, Northwestern was challenged very little in the bottom bracket as well. The Huskies beat Tri Valley Conference member Nelsonville – who eventually defeated Licking Christian for seventh place – in straight sets 25-12, 25-11 and then continued to roll against Scioto Valley Conference member Huntington Ross 25-9, 25-14, setting up the anticipated final match up of two top 11 Division III teams in Northwestern and Alexander.
“Playing a team like Northwestern is a great opportunity this close to the tournament,” said Jeffers. “It really serves as a measuring stick for where we are at as team entering the postseason. This is why we scheduled this so late in the year, and I think our team is going to benefit from this down the road.”
The championship action in game one saw 12 ties and six lead changes with neither team ever enjoying anything more than a five-point advantage. This came when Alexander scored five straight points to break a 14-14 tie; however, Northwestern answered with five unanswered of its own to tie it a 19. The seesaw battle had the two teams even at 21, 22, 23, and again at 24, but Alexander finally put a halt to the point-swapping as the Lady Spartans scored two straight points to capture a 26-24 game one victory.
Northwestern (19-1), who plays in the highly competitive Wayne County Athletic League, battled back in game two – a game that mirrored game one as both teams were tied eight times. The eighth and final time was at 23 apiece, but this time it was Northwestern that scored on the two final serves to take game two and even the match at one game apiece.
In the third and decisive game, Northwestern sprinted out to a 4-0 lead and stayed in control throughout. Even though Alexander did tie the Huskies at nine, 13, and 14, the Lady Spartans would never lead. Northwestern, who got a combined 31 kills from the fine hitting junior duo of Kara Koch and Kristen Warner, slowly pulled away to a 25-18 game three win to capture the tournament title.
“It is nice to get away from the teams you always see back home,” said Northwestern head coach Veronica Briggs. “I think it was a great experience to get to another part of the state and play against some solid teams.”
In the losing effort, Alexander’s balanced attack – which consisted of the fine passing of senior libero Lauren Thomas, the setting of junior Lauren Raines, and a handful of Spartan hitters led by junior middle-hitter Betsy Irwin and outside-hitter in junior Whitney Smith – that had the Northwestern defense a little off balance through the first game-and-a-half started to lose its tempo with the relentless attack from Koch and Warner.
The third-place finish went to South Webster, who is led by 6’1” junior middle-hitter Erin Sherman – who also sets from the back row in SW’s 6-2 offense – as the Lady Jeeps defeated Huntington 25-16, 25-18. The Western Brown Lady Broncos of the Southern Buckeye Athletic Conference defeated Alexander’s junior varsity team – who was forced to participate due to late scheduling conflicts, and actually defeated Nelsonville – to earn the fifth-place spot.
SIDE NOTE: Former Alexander star Jami Turrill, who played a major role in leading the Lady Spartans to last year’s final four, was honored as the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference volleyball player of the week. As a freshman, Turrill is a starter and has helped the University of Charleston to a 12-6 overall record, including a 5-0 league mark. Turrill combined for 37 kills and 68 digs in league wins over Davis & Elkins, Seton Hill and Shepherd.