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Connersville head volleyball coach Tori Whitmore, center, celebrates with players and coaches during a time-out called by Seymour at the Connersville High School invitational meet on Saturday. CHS finished 1-2 at the meet, but Whitmoreapplauded the day’s effort, calling the first two matches some of the best volleyball she’s seen her charges play in two years.
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Frontline duo Erika Smith (5) and Emily Hodson attempt a block against Seymour, Saturday morning at avolleyball invitational meet held inside the Connersville High School. In addition to the Lady Owls, teams from Indianapolis Pike and Rising Sun attended the meet.
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Connersville’s Allison Woytik, left, and Raegan Patton both target a return against Seymour inside the CHS gymnasium on Saturday, while line judge and Lady Spartan reserve player Rylee Fuller looks on. Connersville wound up finishing third at its home invitational.

By GRADY TATE - gtate@newsexaminer.com

Hosting teams from Indianapolis Pike, Rising Sun, and Seymour for an invitational on Saturday, the Connersville volleyball team came out of the meet with a third-place finish.

At the close of the day, however, the Lady Spartans were all too aware they should have finished one position higher than that.

In the team’s final match of the day against Pike, after easing to a 25-11 win in the opening set against the Lady Red Devils, Connersville hit a wall in back-to-back defeats, 25-21 and 15-7, dropping the team out of the runner-up spot.

“We missed seven serves and made some silly mistakes and wound up giving them the second game,” Connersville head coach Tori Whitmore said of the stumble. “Basically, the same thing happened in the third, and that allowed them to take the match. There were just too many mistakes, things that that we could have and should have controlled.”

While the final match of three on the day might have affected the taste buds a bit negatively for the Whitmore and her charges, the performance in the first two tilts of the day were quite delicious.

“This is the best volleyball I have seen the girls play in two years. Against Rising Sun and Seymour we played really, really well,” the CHS coach said. “Looking at the day as a whole, I’m not upset by any means. We should have pulled out that win against Pike, but in our other two matches, the girls had some great performances.

In the opener against the Lady Shiners, led by seven kills at the net by Emily Hodson, and eight digs on defense by Allison Woytik, Connersville cruised to a straight set win, 25-16, 25-17. In that win, Marley Smith helped set up her fellow front-line players with a dozen assists.

Following the win, CHS faced Seymour.

With the exception of New Castle, the Lady Owls are probably the tallest team the Spartans will face this year.

But on Saturday, that height advantage played only a modest factor, as Connersville stood up to the challenge. Led by Ally Bell’s five blocks, the Spartans refused to let the taller hitters dominate the net. 

Seymour still wound up winning the match (25-15, 25-20), but Connersville made the eventual invitational champions work harder than in either of their other two matches.

Whitmore said that credit for her team’s improved play goes back to the turn of the calendar from August to September. 

“We just had a little talk before the North Central Invitational, and I pointed out that this was their season, and for the seniors, it was their last,” she said. “They just decided that what we had been doing was not how they wanted to go out. 

“There has been a team effort to turn some things around, and that change in attitude has made a difference. They’re playing more together as a team, and a lot of that is due to a rise in confidence.”

Along with that revised mindset, has come several improved skills on the court, Whitmore added.

“Over all, both our serve receive and defense have gotten much, much better. Improvement on things like watching the ball into their arms, small skills like that, have been evident here lately, as well.

“Those little things win a lot of games, and the girls are starting to see that.”

Connersville hosts Rushville on Wednesday, and is home again Thursday, entertaining North Decatur.

CONNERVSVILLE INVITATIONAL

(at Connersville High School)

Connersville 25-25, Rising Sun 16-17

Kills — Emily Hodson 7, Paige Dunaway 3, Erika Smith 3, Ally Bell 2, Marley Smith 2.

Blocks — Bell 2, Hodson 2, M. Smith 1.

Digs — Allison Woytik 8, Tori Hanson 3, Raegan Patton 2, Hodson 2.

Serve Receive — Hodson 8, Woytik 5.

Aces — M. Smith 2.

Assists — M. Smith 12, Laina Fields 5.

(Stats for Rising Sun unavailable)

Seymour 25-25, Connersville 15-20

Kills — CHS (14): Erika Smith 4, Marley Smith 4, Ally Bell 2, Emily Hodson 2, Laina Fields 2. SHS (22): Jessica Blevins 10, Chloe Criswell 5, Abby Schmidt 2, Carlee Robinson 2, Makenna

Fee, Sarah Kaufman, Grace Schrader.

Blocks — CHS (11): Bell 5, E. Smith 2, M.

Smith 2, Fields 1. SHS (11): Schmidt 4, Robinson 2, Criswell 2, Blevins, Fee, Schrader.

Digs — CHS (16): Allison Woytik 11, Raegan Patton 3, Hodson 2. SHS (28): Criswell 7, Morgan Bobb 6, Hayley Harpe 6, Robinson 2, Blevins 2, Fee 2, Kaufman 2, Schrader 1.

Serve Receive — CHS (20): Woytik 11, Hodson 5, M. Smith 3, Patton 1. SHS (28): Harpe 10, Bobb 7, Criswell 6, Schmidt 2, Kaufman 2, Robinson 1.

Aces — CHS (2): Woytik, Hodson. SHS (3): Blevins, Criswell, Fee.

Assists — CHS (14): Fields 8, M. Smith 6. SHS (21): Fee 21.

Indianapolis Pike 11-25-15, Connersville 25-21-7

Kills — Marley Smith 6, Maranda Cranfill 4, Emily Hodson 3, Ally Bell 2, Erika Smith 2, Laina Fields 2, Raegan Patton 2.

Blocks — E. Smith, M. Smith.

Digs — Allison Woytik 7, Hodson 7, M. Smith 2, Patton 2.

Serve Receive — Patton 7, Woytik 6, Hodson 6, M. Smith 4, Fields 1.

Aces — Hodson 2, Patton 1.

Assists — Fields 10, M. Smith 7.

(Stats for Indianapolis Pike unavailable)