It ended up going over the net for a Norwalk point. The very next point, Ward served an ace. There was also the entire team singing of Katy Perry between games.
It was that type of night for the Norwalk volleyball team, which coasted to a three-game sweep over visiting Mansfield Madison in a Division II sectional semifinal Tuesday night at Norwalk High School.
Norwalk (13-10) won by scores of 25-10, 25-8, 25-7 to advance to Thursday’s 5:30 p.m. sectional championship match vs. Vermilion (15-7) at Willard High School. The two teams just played this past Saturday in Vermilion, with Norwalk winning a competitive four-game match.
“When we have fun, we still focus in,” said Ward, the team’s setter. “We find the in-between of when to have fun and be serious, and I think that’s what we did tonight. We took care of what we needed to, and had fun doing it.”
There was little question on Tuesday’s outcome against the struggling Rams (4-18). Leading 13-7 in Game 1, Norwalk reeled off 10 straight points to go up 23-7. The points came from all over the place, as Mya Nueberger and Marie Clouse had big hits for kills, and Claire Kelley served the entire stretch with some aces mixed in.
The second game saw Norwalk jump out to a 12-4 lead — only to eventually see that margin balloon to 23-6. Ward had three aces in a key stretch, while Karley Miller and Delaney Thomas came up big at the net multiple times.
Neuberger finished off the 25-8 win with a kill.
In Game 3, Norwalk again held a 13-7 lead — then did one better from Game 1 by serving out the match with 12 straight points. Kelley was again the big point server, with Thomas and Clouse dominating up front.
“Our girls came out and took care of the ball,” Norwalk coach Sarah Kipp said. “We really focused on minimizing our unforced errors, and I think we did that tonight.”
Last week, Norwalk was tested twice in three days. First was a tough, four-game loss at Bellevue in a winner-take-all SBC Lake championship match on Thursday. Then on Saturday was the four-game win at Vermilion.
“We need to be more disciplined in how we play the ball,” Kipp said when asked what the biggest takeaway from last week was. “How we pass the ball and get it to where we need it to be in order to run our offense. When we run a quick offense, teams struggle with getting out and blocking it.
“The goal is to keep the other team out of system, and at Bellevue we didn’t do that,” she added. “We didn’t take care of the ball or pass, but give credit where it’s due, Payton Vogel took over and there was no stopping her that night.”
In Tuesday’s win, Thomas had nine kills on 17-of-18 hitting with six blocks, while Neuberger added eight kills on 20-of-21 hitting. Kelley finished 29 for 29 serving with 27 points and four aces.
Ward served nine points with four aces and added five kills and six digs to go with her 30 assists on 68-of-68 setting. Lindsey Koenig had 18 digs, while Kelley also added seven kills and 11 digs.
In the rematch with the Sailors, Kipp said the team will need to limit 6-foot senior middle Maddie Colahan.
“We have to take care of the ball and focus on her in the middle,” she said. “Because she could easily have a night like Vogel did, and we’ll struggle with that if she does.”
Meanwhile, Ward said Norwalk needs to dial it in and focus on itself.
“I just think it’s mostly on us playing our game, and not letting the other team take us out of it,” she said. “It doesn’t matter who is on the other side of the net if we play our game.”