West volleyball season upended by Little Hawks in three sets

The Women of Troy fell to the City High Little Hawks in three sets 25-10, 25-20 and 25-22 behind strong back row play from Katherine Kouba '22 and three kills from Misha Canin '22.

The West High volleyball season ended just as it began.

Sort of.

The Women of Troy lost in three straight sets to City High despite key assists from Emma Dunlap ’22 and great all-around defensive play. Although the score resembles the outcome of the Battle for the Spike, this year’s youthful group has certainly made strides from the team’s first matchup in August, and it showed tonight.

One of the main problem’s in the team’s loss was playing from behind early in sets. City High jumped out to an early 4-0 lead in the first set, and never looked back. The indecisiveness that has plagued the West High defense this year came to light as the Women of Troy let a number of City High serves hit the floor, only to land in bounds.

Dunlap provided a bright spot for the team in the first set, leaping up for an impressive block to go along with her two assists in the set.

On the other side of the net, the Women of Troy blockers were routinely found guilty by City High’s Kelsey Law ’20, who ruled the court with plenty of screaming kills in the first set.

Owen Aanestad
Sophomores Misha Canin and Mayowa Dokun jump to block a hit from City High’s Kelsey Law ’20. The pair combined for four blocks in the team’s match against City High on Oct. 29.

After dropping the first set 25-10, the Women of Troy regrouped in the locker room and shored up their defensive miscues early in the second period.

Sophomore libero Katherine Kouba lead the team from the back row, keeping points alive with great digs, enabling spikes from McKenna Proud ’21 and Raina Pfeifer ’22.

The second set was a defensive battle on both sides, ultimately revealing a budding identity for this young volleyball team. Misha Canin ’22 picked up two blocks in the set, while Mayowa Dokun ’22 stuffed Law twice at the net. West won a prolonged point with three digs late in the set, cutting the Little Hawk lead to four at 21-17.

To add to the defensive theme, juniors Ryann Culver and Madison Kiersch were all over the back row in the second and third sets, sprawling out for digs and exciting the spirited West High crowd. In spite of their efforts, the Little Hawks prevailed in the second set, 25-20.

Owen Aanestad
Emma Dunlap ’22 bumps the ball at the team’s volleyball playoff match against City on Oct. 29.

With their backs against the walls, the West High hitters came out with confidence early in the third set, as five different players recorded a kill in the period.

The defense also held strong as the Women of Troy jumped out to an early 10-7 lead in the third set. Everyone grabbed a shovel to pitch in defensively, as seven different players recorded a dig in the third set, lead by Katherine Kouba ’22 and Natalie Young ’20 with three digs a piece.

Young also recorded two kills in the final set as her front-row partner Dokun added two blocks. With the score tied at 16-16, City High went on a 8-2 run to pull away at 24-18.

The Women of Troy did not go quietly. The team dug in their heels and rallied off four straight points before falling 25-22 in the third and final set. The heart and grit displayed over those last four points paint a bigger picture for this team’s growth and maturity this year.

With the season over, here are a few key takeaways from the team’s final match.

IDENTITY FOUND

A big problem for this year’s volleyball team was discovering their strengths and finding an identity that they could embrace and latch on to. From watching their final match, it seems the team has found that identity: defense.

Like so many other West High programs, head coach Scott Sanders should be looking to build his program around his defense, which features arguably the team’s best players in sophomore libero Katherine Kouba and blocker Misha Canin.

Everyone on the floor is capable of playing defense, especially juniors Ryann Culver and Madison Kiersch, who should combine with Kouba to establish a very protective back row next year. Dokun and Dunlap also displayed their defensive capabilities against the Little Hawks, giving the team some resistance in the front row as well.

Owen Aanestad
Front row blockers McKenna Proud ’21 and Mayowa Dokun ’22 jump to block a City High hit at the end of the team’s third set against City High on Oct. 29.

HITTER CONFIDENCE

Defense is great, but games are won and lost at the net.

When things go poorly, it becomes easy to second-guess and become indecisive as a hitter. This game’s third set, when the players had nothing to lose, revealed the potential of this team’s hitters when they play with poise and confidence.

Unlike many teams they faced, West lacked a dominant lead hitter that could consistently convert on offense. McKenna Proud ’21 lead the team with 1.44 kills per set, which clocked in at 38th in the conference.

Whether it’s Proud, Dokun or Raina Pfeifer ’22, this team needs more offensive firepower, and all three have certainly shown the potential to become a dominant hitter in this conference.

The good news is that with solid defense the hitters can expect better shots resulting in more spikes for the Women of Troy next season. Expect next year’s team to play great defense, with a much-improved offense.

RESET BUTTON

It was no secret that this season was a rebuilding year for coach Scott Sanders and the volleyball program. The loss of the team’s starting setter and top six hitters from a year ago left plenty of holes in the West High lineup that have been filled more and more as the season comes to a close.

The leadership provided by senior Natalie Young will certainly be missed, but Katherine Kouba and her twin sister Sophia seem more than ready to take on the challenge of leading this team into a new era of West High volleyball.

In the team’s first match against City High, there was lots of miscommunication and hesitation on the West High side. Not tonight. This year’s team may be young, but they are ready.

Gelling this young team is a high priority for coach Sanders, and once these girls become a single unit, working together in beautiful unison, the rest of the conference is in for a vengeful surprise.

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