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Leyton captures MAC crown for eighth time

 

Putting in a strong all-around effort the Leyton Warriors won their eighth consecutive MAC Tournament with convincing straight-set victories over Garden County and Creek Valley. With a 2-1 record, the Storm earned runner-up honors.

As the top seed, the Warriors (24-2) were given a bye in the first round and then polished off their first opponent, Garden County, 25-9 and 25-20. The win propelled Leyton into the championship match.

The Creek Valley Storm, installed as the second seed, meanwhile had little trouble dispensing of Minatare 25-8 and 25-5 in its first match. The host South Platte Blue Knights posed more of a problem, but the Storm managed to erase them from the winners bracket as well. Creek Valley (11-7) felled South Platte by set scores of 25-17, 21-25 and 25-21 to earn a berth in the championship game against the Warriors.

The Warriors had a relatively easy time in the first set of the finals with a 25-8 win. The Creek Valley girls dug in for game two before the close set got away from them late in a 25-18 final.

Warriors senior Kassandra Harris opened up the final match at the service line and helped Leyton jump out to a modest 2-0 lead. Shaela Jenkins of Leyton pounded home a kill for point-number two. Though only a modest early lead, it was significant only in that the Storm were never able to capture a lead against the seven-time defending champions. Twice the set was tied early, but that's as close as the game would get.

"I really wanted to play to my fullest today. I wanted to win this and keep our tradition alive," Jenkins said. "We all worked so hard as a team and I think it's the best game I've ever played."

Creek Valley got on the board with a nice set by Madison Blackwelder to Jill Behrends who drove home the kill. Two points later Behrends tipped another point for Creek Valley to open court after passes from Jerry Straber and Shania Brown. In between, however, Katy Ernest kept the Warriors alongside with a couple of nice scoring shots of her own.

Once the score reached 5-5, the tide began swinging towards Letyon for good. It started with a pass from Jenkins to Ernest. Harris then took the Ernest set and sent home a point to give the Warriors the lead for good. From the point of the 5-5 tie, Leyton scored 20 of the games final 23 points.

"The most important thing for us was to pull together as a team," Ernest said. "We had a meeting earlier in the week and we talked about our goals and what we want to accomplish."

Ernest added that the ultimate goal of the Warriors was to earn a place at state.

Creek Valley was energentic in its return to the court for game two. Summer Mueller got the ball rolling the Storm's way at the service line. Creek Valley's initial 3-1 advantage was the beginning of a see-saw battle in the early stages of the set. A couple of the tie scores, however, were separated by several-point runs by both squads.

The first tie came at three with a Kaitlyn Berner to Ernest to Kelsey Waite exchange for Leyton. Waite drove home the kill. After Creek Valley took a one-point lead, the matter was tied again at four by Leyton despite two alert digs by Mueller.

Not only effective in the back court, Mueller can play the net too. She turned back a Leyton kill attempt with a nice block point that resulted in a 6-4 Storm lead. Two points later the contest was tied at six when Diedra Waite and Berner blocked a Storm kill attempt. For the Warriors it was the start of a 7-1 run giving them a 13-7 advantage. Harris provided Leyton with the final two points of the run. She blocked one back the other way for the 12th point and sent scored a kill for point 13.

Despite the rough patch, the Storm fought back. Creek Valley went on a 7-1 run of its own to knot the score up at 14. Mueller's service game kept the Warriors off balance after her kill gave back the serve to Creek Valley. Before Mueller's ace tied the game at 14, Hannah Schievelbein twice scored for the Storm. She pushed the first to open court and blocked Leyton at the net for the second.

After the 15-15 tie, Kelsey Waite dropped a couple of soft shots to open ground to finally turn the tide towards Leyton for good. The Warriors finished the contest on a 10-4 run, capped off by Kelsey Waite's kill after passes from Harris and Ernest.

"We needed intensity today to win. Lately we've been playing like we're a little boored and today we wanted to have more fun," said Kelsey Waite. "I really think we've started a new thing today. I think we're playing the best we've played all year."

Kelsey Waite topped all the Warriors in the final match with 11 kills. Ernest added six kills while Jenkins and Harris had five apiece. Ernest had 22 set assists for Leyton. Ernest and Harris were also strong at the service line as each had just one error in 17 and 14 attempts respectively.

Defensively, Jenkins topped the Warriors in digs with eight while Harris had seven.

Blackwelder and Mueller were perfect from the service line for Creek Valley with no errors in eight and seven attemps respectively. Behrends led the team in kills with four. Schievelbein had two blocks while Mueller and Straber had seven and six kills respectively.

"Our girls were really focused today," said Warriors Head Coach Jodi Craig. "These girls deserve success as they have become skilled volleyball players thorough their hard work and dedication. They have continued the strong tradition of Leyton Warrior volleyball."

Said Storm Head Coach Roger Behrends, "It's tough to get beat in the finals, but Leyton is a very good team," he said. "We kind of ran out of gas during this game. It's great to get second in the conference. I'm very proud of each and everyone of the girls."

The Storm are next in action on Tuesday when they host Bayard and Mitchell in a triangular at 4 p.m. Leyton will be part of another Tuesday triangular with Potter-Dix at Banner County at 5 p.m.

 

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