Host Norwalk was down its top hitter and had already wrapped up the Sandusky Bay Conference Lake division title outright prior to Thursday’s match against Bellevue.
But it could have been six-on-one, and Bellevue coach Karen Irons isn’t going to understate what her team’s four-game win over the Ladies in Blue meant.
“It’s a win here, in this gym — and it’s a long time coming,” Irons said after her team won at Norwalk for the first time since 2003. “It’s Norwalk. Everyone knows the tradition and what they have done here.
“My girls played hard,” she added. “I’m very proud of the effort. I didn’t realize they were down one of their top players until we came over here, but my girls played great.”
Bellevue won by scores of 25-19, 21-25, 25-18, 25-18.
Senior middle hitter Aimee Smith, who leads Norwalk by 60 kills to the next closest player with 225, missed Thursday’s match with a concussion, suffered late in Tuesday’s win over Sandusky.
It’s been that type of stretch recently for Norwalk (14-7, 10-2), which has struggled with injuries for much of the season.
“Senior night is always hard, no matter what,” Norwalk coach Angie Kalizewski said. “It doesn’t help when you’re starting middle is out. We just had our other middle (Claire Kelley) coming back from injury not long ago, and on top of it, our third middle is a freshman, who is doing a good job and the best she can.”
Bellevue (10-12, 6-6) set an early tone and controlled Game 1 from the outset. But Norwalk responded with a big comeback in Game 2.
Trailing 20-17 after a kill by Bellevue’s Taylor Baxter, Norwalk sophomore hitter Carly Bilton delivered big with six consecutive kills to put her team up 23-20. An unforced error by the Lady Red then set up game point for Norwalk to even the match at 1-1.
In Game 3, Bellevue again went out to a big lead (15-7), but again found itself up only 17-16 midway through the set. But sparked by an ace from Morgan Hicks, the Lady Red recovered and pulled way for a 25-18 win.
The fourth game was tied at 15, but the Lady Red got big hits from McKenna Davis and Hicks to spark six straight points for a 21-15 lead. Seizing the momentum, Bellevue finished off the match with four of the last seven points.
They did a great job on defense and playing the ball off the block, just tough defense,” Irons said of her team. “There were some well-contested long rallies, and some of them didn’t go our way — but then they started to down the stretch.”
Payton Vogel was 46-of-51 hitting with 19 kills to pace Bellevue, while Hicks had 13 kills and Baxter had 12. Vogel, Davis and Riley Mohr each added four blocks.
Molly Bullion was 126-of-128 setting with 46 assists and had 18 digs for the Lady Red, who also got 23 digs from Hicks and 22 from Vogel.
Bellevue goes to Shelby to play the Whippets for a third time in next Wednesday’s Division II sectional tournament.
“The timing couldn’t be better with a win like this to end the regular season,” Irons said. “We needed the confidence boost. They have the ability and the talent, and beating Shelby and Norwalk at the end of the season I think shows them they can play with anybody and gives them the belief that they can do it.”
For Norwalk, Bilton was 54-of-66 hitting with 16 kills, and Claire Kelley was 33-of-37 with 10 kills. Mya Neuberger added eight kills, while Anne Davidson and Lindsey Koenig each had 26 digs.
Haleigh Skinner added 17 digs and Olivia Ward had 16. Alaina Kelley was 165-of-165 setting with 37 assists and 22 digs.
Kalizewski knows injuries are part of the game, but things are getting tough.
“Do I like to ever take those factors into account? No, I don’t — I think they’re excuses,” she said. “But at some point, I do have to think about the kids and take that into account. I’m extremely disappointed for them, because this isn’t how they deserved to end their season at home.
“But Bellevue came in here and did what they needed to do,” Kalizewski added. “We’ll take it, learn from it and see if we can get everybody back healthy for the tournament and make a run.”